The one liberating thing about no longer "officially" reviewing is that I can now just quit books that aren't working for me. Such is the case with Walk Into The Flame by Ronda Thompson, a Native American western romance that came out in 2003 and which has probably been sitting in my TBR since then.
Now, I'm probably one of the few readers who isn't entirely burnt out on these. When most romance readers were cutting their teeth on them in the 1980s and 1990s, I was reading Mary Higgins Clark and Sue Grafton. Plus, Native American romances can be done well - it's just they're very few and very far between.
Walk Into The Flame starts out with a lot of promise, but by page 100 I was getting bored with it. It also didn't help that I knew exactly where it was headed. By far the highlight of the 100 pages I managed to read was the heroine, Rachel Brodie, who was abandoned by her abusive father and raised by the Mescalero Indians in New Mexico. She was a haunted child, refusing to talk for many years following the death of her white mother. She is raised by a loving Mescalero couple, and develops an unhealthy crush on her adoptive brother, Swift Buck.
For his part, Swift Buck is also attracted to her - but then she decides to live in the white man's world with her half brother. Rachel wants to "find herself," being caught between two very different worlds. Swift Buck has the patience and understanding God gave a concrete slab, and sees her defection as a betrayal.
Fast forward five years and Rachel is playing both sides of the fence. The Mescalero have been herded onto a filthy, desolate reservation and are dying. Rachel wants to help, but she's a woman, which means the only way to get to New Mexico is under the guise of preaching to the savages. She easily finds a preacher and his wife to help her travel plans along. Thinking Swift Buck was killed in the fighting with the U.S. Army, she's shocked to see him very much alive, and a single father to boot. But he hates her on sight for leaving the Mescalero and doesn't trust her worth a lick.
Rachel is smart, independent and haunted by her past. This poor girl has no idea who she is, torn between two worlds warring with each other. I admired her moxie and her smarts. She wants to help, but how to travel all the way to New Mexico? Playing the missionary, of course! And she quickly realizes that in order to help the Mescalero, she's going to have find a way to work with the Army captain stationed at the reservation - a man who is sweet on her. It's a very tight rope our girl has to walk.
My problems with the story start with Swift Buck, who is very unsympathetic (a neat trick since he's Native American and the reader goes into the story automatically wanting to sympathize with him). It just really bothered me that he was so mule-headed about Rachel. Doesn't he get it? She's neither "white" nor "Mescalero." Couple that with her abusive childhood and she's a woman adrift. She needs to find herself. She needs to heal from her past. Instead he takes her hostage, calls her "woman" and is determined to treat her like a captive. It also doesn't help that his dialogue occasionally drifts into what I call Native American Purple Prose Only Found In Romance Novel Land. And I'm sure y'all know what I'm talking about.
I skipped to the end and read the last chapter. Looks like Swift Buck does come around, and we have a happily ever after. I suspect if I had managed to read the whole book it would have fallen under my "average" umbrella (a C), but I got bored with the journey so Final Grade = DNF.