I’m irritated with myself.
Before I requested this book on NetGalley, I had an internal debate. I rarely like historical romance fiction which caters to the fans of Native American romance novels, simply because I have yet to read one (and yes, I’ve read several) that doesn’t succumb to stereotypes.
In a world of romance fiction that thankfully frequently embraces cultural differences and sexual orientations (it can do better, but it’s come a long way), it seems like romance fiction which has a Native American character or tribe as a key plot focus immediately jumps back into the bodice ripper assumptions of the 1980s. Yuck.
I’m afraid not only does The Peacemaker by Chelley Kitzmiller have bizarre and unfortunate stereotypes but it’s also just a poorly written romance novel.
Miss Independence Taylor is a miss of undetermined age headed from St. Louis to the Arizonia territory to meet up with her estranged father, a colonel in the army. The tension between them exists because Indy’s father blames her for the death of her mother and brother since she brought smallpox home after working at an orphanage. She thinks braving the horrors of stagecoach travel and an army escort in order to make a home for her father will mend their fences.
As she sets out with a small escort who has come to pick up the fort’s mail and found her as well, they are beset by two groups of Apache. The nice captain in charge of the escort gives Indy a pistol to not only help defend herself, but to also leave one bullet in the chamber for herself so she does not suffer the fate of Apache captives. In the course of aiding the soldiers, she does shoot at several of the Indians firing arrows at them but before she can kill herself, one man jumps on the wagon (which had careened out of control) and takes the pistol away from her, simultaneously putting his hands all over her. Fearing rape, she passes out from a head wound only to wake up among the recuperating remaining soldiers from her escort to discover that this man is actually an Apache scout known as Shatto, who actually rescued her by counterattacking a force from another group which appeared bent on killing them. The handsy incident was him checking her wounds since she had a head wound and the captain’s blood all over her.
Indy later finds out that, rather than the inscrutable Apache warrior she believes him to be, Shatto is actually Major Jim Garrity, a former soldier tried for murder during the Civil War and sentenced to death before escaping. Naturally the charges against him are false and he has made another life for himself as a close friend of a group of Apache. Really coincidentally, he is best friend (from his time in West Point) with the captain who helped save Indy. This immediately felt unlikely to me. Jim Garrity manages to “go native” with a group of Apache (who accept him seemingly without difficulty), master their language, learn all their warrior techniques, etc. in the space of only a few years and then his best friend from West Point, who is aware of his innocence, gets posted to the next canyon over. Well, that’s convenient.
Much of the interaction with the various Apache characters raised my hackles. The speeches are the stilted language of John Ford Westerns, with various characters speaking about themselves in the third person (is there no “I” in the Apache language? If there isn’t, can’t it be translated as such since Jim is undoubtedly communicating in Apache anyway?). White people are referred to as “white eyes” and there are some references to the “Great Spirit” although this terminology doesn’t appear to be part of the Apache religious tradition, but rather a phrase indigenous to the Lakota and Algonquin Indian religions. No reference is made to the matrilineal organization of Apache culture, or to anything that would give dimension to the lives of tribal members, like their oral history/mythology, their knowledge of pottery creation or sandpainting, or any actual religious tradition.
And all it takes is a few hot glances between Indy and “Shatto” and then they are kissing with her declaring her love for him with no real exchange between them. He rescues her a few times from a bad burn and a fainting spell, but I swear to you they don’t exchange more than thirty words before she tells him she loves him. You do, Indy? Yet toward the end of the novel, Jim refers to one of their “long talks”. What long talks? The romance between them is totally improbable, even with the arrival of the comissioner who has come to investigate the incompetence of Indy’s father saying that he’ll take on Jim’s case and get a pardon for him.
What really set off my creep-o-meter was how Jim had no problem getting all riled up staring at Indy through her bedroom window after she was unwell (stalker, much?) and then he heads off with her slutty, former saloon girl friend Prudence to make out and have her fondle him. They totally would have had sex if Prudence hadn’t mentioned Indy’s name, which I guess reminded Jim that he supposedly had feelings for her and caused him to change his mind. Thank heavens Prudence is chatty, otherwise Jim would have been putting his little Shatto inside of Prudence pretty damn fast, and I’m guessing he didn’t have access to mid-nineteenth century condoms. Sorry, but I can’t get behind this kind of cheating. And Indy wouldn’t have even known about it unless Prudence had said something, spinning the incident as proof of Jim’s feeling for Indy.
There is a bizarre paranormal element never gets explained – Jim is able to “take the wind” from his enemies which means he absorbs their “power” when he kills them and this is illustrated when the local enemy chief of a rival Apache band attempts to kidnap Indy after her and Jim’s first major make-out session and Jim kills three of the four warriors who attacked them. He is surrounded by an unexplained wind and then tells the surviving warrior, the son of the chief, to beware because he has absorbed his wind. There’s wind here all right, I’m just not sure it necessarily has that much power. And this is what makes him a great warrior, rather than practice, practice, practice?
Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. The ending was horrendous. Indy’s paranoid two-dimensional villain of a father gets it into his pea brain that his career would have a boost if he captured the famous Apache warrior Cochise and heads out to engage him soon after Indy helps Jim and his captain friend escape the unlawful torturing and imprisonment her father has imposed upon them. They return with the surviving soldiers to say that Indy’s father died (just like that? He was the major villain!) and there was never any mention when she’s jailbreaking them that they were just going to head out and join the Cochise fight.
It’s the very end that clinched my intense dislike of the book and the character of Jim. It takes about a month to get all the documentation to clear him of his former charges, but the epilogue’s idea of a happily ever after is to show how great everything is by mentioning how Jim is reinstated in the army and – great news! – is instrumental in setting up the garrison at Fort Apache and the reservation surrounding it. WTF? Wow, I bet his Apache friends will be thrilled at him helping out with the freakin’ reservation that will help deny them freedom. That sounds great. And it is this work on his part which supposedly explains how the wind would whisper to him “peacemaker”. Did it also whisper “asshole”? Because that’s what I heard from the wind.