I ordered this book especially because I was just that excited to trash it to pieces. I remember this book being awful, just awful, when I read it as a teenager (I think my local library stocked the entirety of the Avon True Romance series) and yet that didn’t stop me from reading the other dozen or so books that followed. I have a vague memory of this book being poorly-written and also racist, so let’s see if my teenage recollections hold up very well.
[Later, after I finished this review: this is the very first book I’ve reviewed that got an F rating! So that’s, uh, exciting.]
Book: Miranda and the Warrior, Elaine Barbieri, 2002.
As you can clearly see, the cover art is doing it no favours. Miranda looks remarkably clean in what appears to be a yellow chiffon party dress and neatly-combed hair, and the eponymous Warrior (oh God, this is going to be awful) is wearing buckskin and a feather in his hair in a fashion that I’m sure makes absolutely no sense.
The very first line is “The American Frontier, 1871” so, uh, specific. Miranda has given a bunch of soldiers the slip to go visit a friend of hers whose horse is foaling, and already Miranda seems awful for disobeying orders to go out unaccompanied in what is likely an open war zone. Smart. “The baggy male clothing and oversized hat that was her present riding attire aside, she had learned to use the curving proportions of womanhood to full advantage, when necessary.” We are one page into this book and I already hate Miranda.
Miranda is eighteen and her father, who is a US Cavalry captain, is apparently wildly overprotective. I do not buy this already. Miranda’s mother is dead in childbirth, to conveniently get her out of the way. Later on that page Cheyenne raiders show up, and it goes straight from Miranda spotting the riders to awakening “slowly to the steady rhythm of a horse underneath her.” Apparently this warrior raced up alongside her and captured her and she sees scorn in his eyes, although why, I have no idea.
We then switch to the warrior’s perspective, and his name is Shadow Walker, and he is very unimpressed with the captive and displeased with his bounty. Apparently he intended to trade Miranda for his uncle, who is being held in the fort, but she won’t do for that. Instead he pawns her off on a woman named Rattling Blanket, who is affectionately termed “the old squaw” and oh my god. “He spoke to the old squaw gently in their native tongue.” Wow. WOW. It’s okay, Shadow Walker, I’m not impressed with things either thus far. I’m just going to mention here and let it go for the rest of the novel that many, many, many Native people currently strongly object to the word “squaw” as a racialized epithet, similar to antiquated words like “Jewess” that exoticize and denigrate Native women. (For more on Native racial issues, which are far beyond my area of expertise, check out the always-excellent www.nativeappropriations.com which covers the topic in far more depth, sensitivity, and knowledge than I could ever hope to.)
Okay. Brief rage headache over, we return to Miranda’s father’s office, where he is chewing out some private for allowing Miranda to go out by herself, and how unfortunate that this poor kid is bearing the burden for Miranda’s screw-up and blatant lies. I’m going to be really irritated if this isn’t setting up some kind of redemption storyline where Miranda realizes how cruel she’s been, especially since she just mentioned how she was using her slammin’ bod to get what she wants.
Miranda is hanging out in Rattling Blanket’s lodge, and tells her that her daddy is going to come and rescue her and everyone in the camp is going to suffer if he has to come and get her. “Such words are not wise. You will suffer at the vengeance they will stir,” Rattling Blanket tells her. I see—we have Wise Native Friends in this book. It turns out that Miranda has heard of Shadow Walker, who is some kind of mighty warrior, and in classic speak of the devil fashion, he turns up at this juncture and takes Miranda out to the woods. (What woods? Where are they? Who knows, and clearly it is unimportant.) He gives her a little reality check in saying that he is her captive and he gave her to Rattling Blanket to be a servant, and he is not going to tell her again to behave herself. It turns out Rattling Blanket is his aunt (or, “his mother’s sister,” because apparently the author is allergic to the words “aunt” and “uncle”), which is why he’s given Miranda to her, and apparently he’s so impressed by Miranda’s spirit that he can’t stop thinking about her. Sure.
Miranda is still convinced that after a couple of days she’ll be able to escape without too much trouble, and is still burning with shame that she’s expected to be a chattel slave. “She would show no fear, and she would serve no one but herself.” I don’t foresee this ending well. Back in the fort, the major is pissed off that nobody has been able to find his daughter’s trail, and they conclude that she must have been taken captive. What remarkable deductive reasoning skills, Major. Whatever unfortunate soldier is in his office at that time is trying to get the major to tell the local Indian agents that “the Great White Father in Washington wants Miss Thurston back. Tell them to stress that Washington will reward whatever tribe can guarantee her safe return,” and oh god, I’m cringing, I’m cringing right through the officer’s declaration that “They have no moral code.” But of course the Major is one of those many enlightened military officers in 1871 who refuses to assist his daughter by lying—oh, I see, this is going to be one of those books where the good guys all just happen to abide by our current moral code! How convenient for the reader!
We flash back then to Miranda, who has been there a week and thoroughly aggravated everyone in the camp by refusing to do anything and wandering around the camp with her damp clothing clinging to “her female curves.” Is it…are we supposed to hate Miranda? I hope so. Rattling Blanket gives her a piece of her mind and tells her to get her act together or Shadow Walker is going to be pretty mad, which is probably true. There’s some more nattering on about “the Great White Father” and “the brave and noble Red Shirt [who] was brother to his father,” UNCLE. THE WORD IS UNCLE.
Miranda is swimming in a pool of the stream when she tries to escape by ducking underwater and popping up on the other side in the reeds, then stealing the nearest horse. Unsurprisingly, Shadow Walker is the one who chases her down and she takes a pretty bad tumble from her horse. He brings her back to camp, and apparently deep down he’s impressed by her “indomitable spirit.” Why? I wouldn’t say “indomitable spirit” so much as “angry pissed-off girl,” and while I don’t blame her for being angry at being kidnapped, I really don’t understand why the entire tribe keeps telling each other why they’re so impressed at her spirit. Also, “she displayed the courage of a lion” is an interesting metaphor for a story set in 1871 America.
All the conversation the Native people have in this book is just terrible and clichéd and totally unimaginative. “’Your warrior status diminishes as you wait.’ ‘I serve the Cheyenne way, not my own desires.’ ‘The people laugh at you.’ ‘Only children and fools laugh when laughter brings retribution.’” UGH. Anyway, this takes place as Spotted Bear is asking Shadow Walker to give Miranda over so he can have a wife, and Shadow Walker won’t do it. But he does tell Miranda she’s been acting like a petulant child and drags her onto a horse to take her….away somewhere.
Back at the fort, the local Indian agent is telling the major why he can’t just go off to the surrounding villages and start inquiring after his daughter without creating open warfare all over the place. There’s some more garbage about “fair trials” and whatnot and I have to admit none of this interests me at all. In their village, Shadow Walker has inexplicably taken Miranda to…a “temporary camp” somewhere. Wait, why? Apparently she “had fallen into an extended semi-sleep” and “begun to speak words without meaning” and has a fever. I don’t even know, this sounds like the world’s worst concussion to me, so why on earth would you take her further away from other people instead of keeping her in the camp where other people could help to nurse her? I don’t know, but they get cold and Shadow Walker cuddles up to her and they go to sleep. I guess this is the part where they start to fall in love.
She wakes up the next morning and is somehow miraculously healed. What. She goes down to bathe and then is horrified when he strips off his shirt and pants to swim along with her. Back at the regular camp we learn a little bit about how Spotted Bear is basically a straw villain, and is wildly jealous of Shadow Walker, who seems to have zero flaws and is beloved by everyone in the camp. The other warriors, young women, the children, everybody just adores him and hates Spotted Bear. Spotted Bear’s amazing plan is to kidnap Miranda and “teach her obedience,” and frankly I don’t see this working out very well for him.
In their inexplicable temporary camp, Miranda is pissed off when Shadow Walker only has jerky for her to eat, and he tells her that from now on if she doesn’t work, she won’t get to eat. Which I suppose is only fair. We flash back to the regular camp and Spotted Bear is trying to convince Rattling Blanket to give him Miranda, and when Rattling Blanket is like “wtf no” he gets all bent out of shape and calls Shadow Walker a fool, which I can’t imagine endears him to anyone at all.
Miranda and Shadow Walker leave again, although I have no idea why or where, and Miranda gets all snitty when Shadow Walker tells her to skin a rabbit and cook it. Miranda keeps going with the “I don’t intend to act as if I’m here willingly” crap and refusing to do anything at all, and I have no idea why Shadow Walker is still putting up with her. So he cooks it and won’t give her any—again, fair—and won’t give her any water either, when she hasn’t been helping with that either.
This plot is useless. The major isn’t allowed to go out hunting after his daughter so he mopes around being sad. Miranda and Shadow Walker go wandering around in the woods somewhere and Miranda refuses to help out and eventually tries to run away, which is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard because she has no idea where she is or what she’s doing. Shadow Walker finds her again after she’s fainted from hunger and cleans up her wounds. Miranda bitches at him for fixing her foot and Shadow Walker points out that she was taken captive in return for his uncle being taken captive, so fair is fair. Okay, not that I buy that, but I suppose it makes sense. Eventually he tells her that he wanted to take a useful male captive instead of a young female, and she bitches a bit more about how he is being brutal and unfair. Which, no, Miranda—he told you if you didn’t work you wouldn’t eat, and you refused to work, and now you don’t get to eat. This is not rocket science.
Back at the camp, Rattling Blanket is visited by her friend who “reads the sacred smoke” and foretells a battle between the tribe and the soldiers. Not to disparage this woman, since it’s her first appearance in the book, but that’s not very difficult to foretell. Back with Shadow Walker, he natters on for a bit about how he’s “drawn to her in ways that stirred him deeply” and I still can’t figure out why. Presumably if Shadow Walker is such hot stuff, he could find himself a girlfriend who isn’t behaving like a bratty, petulant child who also hates him.
Then Spotted Bear takes off to chase after them. I think I see where this is going!
Then Rattling Blanket faints from the heat, and I think this is also not going to end well.
This book is just a couple hundred pages of nothing going anywhere and everyone being vaguely pissy with one another. Shadow Walker is admiring Miranda’s hair and contemplating why he’s so attracted to her (which I question too, to be quite honest, I’m not that impressed with this dude’s choice in women) when Spotted Bear comes pelting up on his horse. Spotted Bear tries to convince Shadow Walker that Miranda is rightfully his captive because Spotted Bear was initially the one chasing her, and it was only because his horse faltered that Shadow Walker got her instead. That is the world’s weakest excuse, buddy. Then Shadow Walker puts Miranda down and the men draw knives and start circling each other to have a knife fight in some sort of bizarre West Side Story-esque dance thing.
Anyway, predictably Shadow Walker gets a scratch and then takes Spotted Bear to the cleaners and almost cuts his throat, then he stops just beforehand to give a long speech about honour and stuff. Shadow Walker, you’re lame. Spotted Bear gives up his “claim” to Miranda and then Shadow Walker and Miranda ride away. I still don’t know where.
How am I only halfway through this book? It feels like an eternity.
Spotted Bear wanders alone in the woods at night thinking about how much he’s going to enjoy taking revenge on Shadow Walker, and he seems to have remarkably little concern that the guy just tried to slit his throat. Miranda and Shadow Walker spar a bit about…nothing, really, which is clearly intended to set up their “lovers’ quarrel” type attraction. She cleans up the cut on his arm, and thanks him sincerely. Shadow Walker tells her that he is taking her to “a place of peace and beauty that I would share with you…a place of promise where we might cast the disputes between our people from our minds—where we might come to know each other without conflict.” Dude, why? You were supposed to be taking her somewhere to heal from that mysterious head injury! Why the sudden change? Shadow Walker then asks if Miranda will “seek a peace between us willingly?” and she agrees. Whatever, they’re falling in love or something. Swell.
Back at the fort, the major is still aggravated that Washington won’t let him go out to raid the local camps to try to find his daughter.
Miranda and Shadow Walker go to their mountain retreat with no mention of his hurt arm or her weird head injury. They hang around swimming and talking and he goes off hunting and she lolls around on the…next to the pond, I suppose. She goes for a swim and Shadow Walker watches her creepily for a bit before confessing that the scar on his back is from a white soldier who shot him when he was a boy. Except apparently Shadow Walker tells stories about his childhood in the third person, which is only needlessly irritating.
Then, out of the blue, a bunch of soldiers come riding up and Shadow Walker tackles her to the ground and smothers her while saying “There is only one way the soldiers will take you from me,” which I think is intended to be romantic but actually ends up being again, vaguely creepy. They pack up in a hurry and Shadow Walker gets ready to take them back to the village, and I still don’t understand the point of this little mountain interlude than to be romantic.
The soldier that the major left in charge back at the fort turns out to be a jackass who just wants to start fights. I cannot bring myself to care.
When Miranda and Shadow Walker get back to the camp, they find Rattling Blanket pretty much on the edge of death, and Miranda has an attack of conscience for treating her horribly. She offers to take care of Rattling Blanket (ugh, that name) for Shadow Walker, and I don’t know why they’re letting her, since she apparently knows nothing about healing or anything. She goes to the stream to get some water and is accosted by, of course, Spotted Bear, who tries to intimidate her and tries to convince her that Shadow Walker is the real jerk here, then leaves. Meanwhile, Shadow Walker is off in council with the other warriors, but when he comes back to see Miranda he confesses “you have become a part of me.”
Blah blah blah, Miranda confesses to Rattling Blanket that she spent the first half of the book being a rancid bitch to her, and then realizes that Rattling Blanket has woken up and is waiting for some water. Shadow Walker rushes in and is so happy to see that she’s going to recover that he grabs Miranda and kisses her. Unfortunately, Spotted Bear sees this, which I can’t imagine does anything good for his own issues.
A couple of weeks later, Miranda is all happy and in love and people are ignoring her less, which I’m sure is lovely and whatever, but she’s just sitting by the river when Shadow Walker grabs her out of the trees. That’s super creepy, Shadow Walker, stop that. They ramble on for a bit about how much they love each other and how difficult it is to be together, and Shadow Walker asks her if she would leave “if I allowed it.”
This is all creepy as hell. He is still her abductor, you know, and he is still holding her captive. It gets worse! She doesn’t know, and he says “I will see to it that you never need to make a choice.” THIS IS NOT ROMANTIC.
It turns out that Spotted Bear went to the fort to rat on Shadow Walker and warriors from another band come to investigate things, since they have a vendetta towards Shadow Walker’s band. They tell him that Miranda is the daughter of the major, and offer to exchange Miranda for his uncle.
At this point I had to stop and chase my cat off the counter and it was way more interesting than this book.
Shadow Walker is really pissed off that Miranda didn’t tell him who her father was, so he gives her up. When they ride to the exchange, Miranda realizes “her heart was broken.” Ugh. And then suddenly Shadow Walker spots sunlight glinting off a rifle, somehow figures out that it’s pointed at Miranda, and dashes to her aid and takes the bullet for her.
It turns out the jackass soldier that Miranda’s father left in charge of the fort wanted to start some shit between the tribes so they’d have a reason to go out and raid, and tried to shoot Miranda and intended to blame it on a rival Cheyenne party. Shadow Walker takes the bullet and doesn’t die (he must be the Bionic Man for all the times he gets shot and doesn’t die), but while he’s lying there ill he has a vision of Spotted Bear hunting Miranda down and dashes out of the camp. He, presumably, collapses, because that’s what happens when you go running around with an open bullet wound in your back.
Miranda, having not learned her lesson even a little bit, sneaks out of the camp to find Shadow Walker and see if he’s all right. She falls asleep underneath a tree, exhausted, when Spotted Bear finds her—wait, how? How did he know she left the fort? Has he been stalking her all this time? If not, has he been wandering around the woods in the dead of night looking for her? Nothing about this damn book makes sense.
She’s miraculously rescued by a bunch of Shadow Walker’s friends, who show up just in the nick of time when Spotted Bear was ready to kill her. Apparently Shadow Walker had a vision. How convenient. He hugs her and “she was home at last.”
Rating: F. This is a crap book. This is a poorly-written book, with characters who may as well be out of the Stock Book of Characters (spitfire Western girl! Noble Indian brave! Wise elderly Indian woman! Tough but straitlaced soldier father!) and everyone comes across looking like at least a little bit of an asshole. There is not a whole lot of reason why Miranda and Shadow Walker fall in love, nothing about it seems vaguely realistic, and the fact that Shadow Walker is Miranda’s damn abductor and captor is never really addressed. The consistent use of the word “squaw” and the incredibly stereotypical portrayals of native peoples is pretty racist, and this is thoroughly a Bad Book. Don’t read it.