Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29839-6
Historical Romance, 2015
It’s been awhile since I read a romance featuring Native Americans doing their thing, so I’m interested in finding out what kind of good stuff Jenna Kernan is serving up in Running Wolf. As it turns out, this is an unexpectedly gripping and solid read, until the romance spoils everything.
Snow Raven is taught by her father, the chief of the Crow tribe, to hunt and fight like any male warrior. This is an unconventional upbringing, explained by the fact that she is hopeless at typical tasks delegated to the women in her tribe. Trouble begins when the Sioux tribe raids her village, and she disobeys her brother’s order to run in order to defend her grandmother from the enemy warriors. She ends up a captive of the Sioux, who has a long-running feud with the Crow tribe, and the war chief Running Wolf happens to have his eye on her.
As a tale of Snow Raven dealing with her captivity – which is harsh and often brutal, a far cry from the “happy special new girl charms the whole tribe thing” that I half expected at first – and even leading the other female captives to escape their captors, this story is solid. The women are all about doing it for themselves, and while they don’t always succeed, their determination and grit are worth applauding. Our heroine is as tough as the author claims, and I like how Snow Raven doesn’t let her captivity drag her spirit down.
However, as a romance, this one is just awful, and it’s all because of Running Wolf. I don’t even know why his name becomes the title of this book, as Snow Raven is the one who carries the whole thing on her shoulders. Running Wolf insists on keeping Snow Raven nearby so that he can secretly grope her and snog her while leaving her to the abuse of his own people. Oh, he steps in now and then to scowl at people who want to really do bad things to her, but on the whole, he’s just keeping the heroine around as a pillow on the side when he wants to feel her up. Compare this to how Snow Raven behaves when the tables are turned: she openly defies her people to protect him, and there is no question in her mind that she would defy her father for him. On his part, Running Wolf wants to keep everything quiet because he wants to have his cake and eat it too. He can’t even say no when his people pushes a bride on him – he’s that useless.
Of course, I can’t expect Running Wolf to openly defy his people if he wants to remain as their war chief, but what happens here is that the romance ends up being horribly lop-sided. Forget Running Wolf not coming to her rescue – in a way, he helps to rescue her and her people only because his people order him into a role where he gets to play hero – he is not even playing with her on equal ground. She is far too good for this loser, and it really shows. As a result, the romance suffers. Worse, the heroine’s brainpower actually goes down after she decides that she’s in love with him. The moment she is free from his people, her first thought is whether Running Wolf would still love her and I want to rest my forehead against the table.
You know what would be great? If only Running Wolf had been a work of historical fiction. No pathetic selfish hero holding the heroine back and making her stupid, just girl power all the way as the heroine kicks ass and makes a getaway back to her people. That story is in here, but it gets derailed by the vapid romance and I close the book wishing that things have been different here. Really different.
Anyway, there’s a four-oogie story in here hopelessly bogged down by a two-oogie romance, so I guess three oogies would be a fair final rating for this book.