Romance novel covers are an endless fascination of mine. Sometimes there’s just a lady, looking helpless or pouty or tousled. Sometimes there’s just a dude, looking swarthy and tough and menacing. Sometimes it’s a totally innocuous image and then you flip the page and – hey there! – sexytimes are unfolding. But sometimes, like with Chieftain – or maybe chiefTain or ChiefTain, it’s hard to tell from the font – the image is just…like…you know? I mean, WHAT is happening here? Is he unconscious? Has he been bludgeoned? The bulging muscles make him look very unrelaxed, like he’s waiting for something bad to happen.
…Which basically sums up this entire novel. Every page I turned was like, what kind of horror is going to pop up next? Look, I don’t think Nan Ryan is a racist person. I just think she probably did her research by watching Disney’s Pocahontas and prefers to rely on race-based stereotypes. But hey, let’s not let all those icky issues get in the way of a love story! It’s just fluff! It doesn’t have to be accurate! Haven’t white people suffered enough?
So the hero of the story is Shanaco, aka The Eagle, who is half white and half Comanche and 100% stud. Because of course. The book opens with Shanaco winning at cards (manly) and then romping with a prostitute (incredibly manly) and blowing her damn mind (SUPER MANLY 5000). And then he goes to see his grandpa and finds out that he has to lead their people to the reservation because they can’t live on the run anymore (sad) and then grandpa dies (really sad) so they go to the reservation (not that sad! Reservation living is awesome!). Which is where Maggie, the lady, lives and works. She teaches English to the people who have been rounded up and kicked off their land and robbed of their possessions and stuffed into cabins on the reservation – but no worries, they totally love her and they all totally understand that they need to learn English for their own good and there’s no hard feelings, not ever, no sir. That Maggie! What a lady! What an inspiration! She charms everyone she meets and there’s even a soldier at the fort who’s in love with her but she’s like, let’s just be friends!, and he’s like, yeah that works for me too!, and they continue hanging out forever and there’s never any tension or resentment. Also, Maggie doesn’t believe in gossiping, but when she finds out that one of the married soldiers is sleeping with the daughter of the general or whoever’s in charge, she’s all, OMG I can’t wait to go tell my friends about it! Which is not gossiping! Totally different!
Anyway, The Eagle and his people ride up and everyone is like oooooh who’s that handsome savage in the breechcloth, and The Eagle is like, ugh why does everyone think I’m such a bad dude, fuckin’ white people. Basically right away all the young men – including The Eagle – get locked up and Maggie’s all, THIS WILL NOT STAND!!!, and gets huffy by herself until the Indian Agent gets back from his business trip or whatever and then she tells him and he’s like, THIS WILL NOT STAND!!!, and actually does something about it. But, you guys, Maggie cares SO MUCH. It’s all she does, she just cares really really hard. By now of course she’s seen the majestic savage and is kind of hot for him. He’s just so savage. Savagely savage, you know? Just made for savaging. Savagetacular. Savagependous. Literally no one can think about or talk about or idly mention The Eagle without using the word “savage” or something that means the same thing. Including Maggie. Which is a) kind of gross and b) hilarious because later The Eagle muses to himself that he’s so glad Maggie doesn’t see him as a savage except that she DOES and she’s been saying it the whole time! I guess it’s different when Maggie says it. Because she cares, you guys. She cares so savagely.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Maggie has to go put up curtains in The Eagle’s little cabin, because what is a cabin on a reservation without delicate curtains, AM I RIGHT OR WHAT?! But then he shows up and kisses her because that’s just the kind of thing that happens when you’re Maggie. And she’s like, eff off with your lips, and he’s like, if you don’t want to be smooched you shouldn’t be in my cabin, which I think we can all agree is a sound argument. Oh I should also mention that Maggie has this dog, this 200 pound wolfhound (which I hope is like a wolf-dog mix and not, like, a Borzoi) named Pistol who is totally devoted to her except when The Eagle is around because The Eagle’s an Indian and Indians can communicate with animals. Duhhhhhh! Whenever Pistol shows up I cringe because he’s stupid. But whatever. Anyway, there’s also this slutty girl who’s the daughter of the general (remember her? Sleeping with the married soldier?) and she is MEGA HOT for The Eagle because (and I swear I’m not making this up, it’s explicitly stated over and over and over) he’s so savage and dangerous and this makes all white women desperate to have bedroom adventures with him. ALL of them. So there’s a ball (of course there is, if there’s one thing every reservation was sure to have, it was a grand ball) and the slut makes her dad invite The Eagle and he shows up all dolled up and she’s like PLEASE LET’S GET NAKED and he’s like no thanks and she’s like TAKE ME NOW OH TAKE ME NOW YOU BROWN STUD and he’s like seriously get away from me yuck, and then Maggie and her completely platonic manfriend step in and rescue him. SHE CARES! But the slut doesn’t give up, because when you’re slutty you can only focus on one thing and that’s having sex, all the time. So she goes to The Eagle’s little cabin (with curtains!) to try to seduce him but, again, he’s not really interested so instead she decides to tell everyone that he raped her. As sluts are wont to do, am I right?
In between the dance and the rape accusation, Maggie and The Eagle have gotten to know each other, blah blah blah, they like each other, blah, you know, whatever. So when she hears about it, she’s like, there’s NO WAY that happened, that slut is just being awful, though she does assume that they did sleep together because The Eagle is a savage who has sex with white women. Obviously. Then The Eagle gets arrested and tossed in jail and they beat the crap out of him and tie him up to the flagpole and Maggie decides to go rescue him. So she takes her baseball bat and…WHY DOES SHE HAVE A BASEBALL BAT? Why? Why? Why? It doesn’t make any sense! Did they even have baseball in Oklahoma in the late 1870’s? I think we all recall the episode of History According to Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman when the baseball team came to town and everyone was like, buh…baseball? What is the baseball? And I refuse to believe that some little backwater fort had baseball AND BASEBALL BATS while the thriving metropolis of Colorado Springs had no damn idea. THERE’S NO WAY. Ugh. Anyway. Maggie takes her big stick and hits the guard and then has to hit another guard and then she and Pistol The Wonder Dog get The Eagle back to her little cabin and she immediately kicks Pistol outside in the snow so she can have naked time with The Eagle. I mean…nurse him back to health. And then have naked time. Anyway, it’s totally gross to be naked in front of your dog. Maggie cares about this issue!!!
So The Eagle is restored and no one suspects Maggie because she’s a sweet little white girl and also I’m sure the clubbing of two soldiers will have absolutely no adverse affect on the people who live on the reservation but that’s not important because I think we can all agree that there’s been plenty of violence on both sides – I mean, that’s what happens when you’re a total savage, right? – and besides now there’s nakedness happening. LOTS of nakedness. Social issues? What? Never mind them! NAKED ALL THE TIME. And also The Eagle starts to call her “baby,” which honestly is fine with me because I was really afraid that he would call her his little papoose or something like that and then I would have lit this book on fire with the force of my disgust. The Eagle and The Baby continue to hump like rabbits and then he’s feeling pretty good so they figure it’s time to escape and he’s like, I have property in New Mexico and I’m going to run away to there because no one knows where it is except for this one guy that I told but he’s cool! And she’s like, well I’m coming with you because I CARE, and he’s like, but what about all those savages who need you and only you to teach them English and prepare them for the realities of living in a white man’s world? (Reality 1: nonstop sex. Reality 2: sunshine and rainbows! LA LA LA!) And she’s like, I only CARE about being with you! Oh, I should also mention that meanwhile the soldiers who believed the slut’s story and put him in jail and beat him up had to go before the second-in-command (the general guy was out of town) who’s really sick and pretty much about to die but he left the hospital and came to the meeting to represent Authority (the Indian Agent was also out of town). And the second-in-command is basically like, do I smell poop are you just shitty at your jobs?, and proceeds to lecture them about how stupid they were to believe the slut and not take her to the doctor (for…a rape kit and DNA swabs, I guess?) and not alert the guy they should have alerted, and basically they had no evidence except of their stupidity, etc. So The Eagle is a fugitive and Maggie clubbed 2 guys with a stick but nobody at the fort really cares, but Maggie and The Eagle don’t know that because they’re busy getting dowwwwwwwn. And good news! Maggie TAMED The Eagle! She tamed him with her thighs and her blue eyes and her bosom and her whiteness. Mostly with her whiteness. Because she is white and The Eagle is not and what he needed to be tamed was a white woman who CARED. For his OWN GOOD. He’s a savage, remember? We can’t be having that shit in Amurrica. There’s just no room.
Then The Eagle and Maggie leave the reservation and head for New Mexico. They stay at a charming hotel and get married and have sex in the bathtub and buy fancy china for their house and dress up to have a nice dinner and then they get to The Eagle’s house and it’s been vandalized, which is sad, and also so much for being hidden and inaccessible. The Eagle is like, this is what life is going to be like if you stick with me, everyone will hate you and they’ll trash your shit and life will be really hard. And Maggie is like, well I’m white and I come from a rich family and I don’t know what you’re talking about so I’m in! And things are great for awhile, they play house and have sex, and then their old friend the Indian Agent shows up and he’s like, look The Eagle has been fully pardoned and that slutty girl got sent home to her whore mother and the bad soldiers have been kicked out and we need you to come back and convince all those savages to settle down and live like normal people, you know what I mean. So Maggie and The Eagle are like, hmmm well okay that’s a good argument – I mean, if The Eagle can be tamed then anybody can right??? They get back to the reservation just in time for Christmas by which I mean just in time for The Eagle to dress up like Santa Claus for all the kids. I am not even exaggerating this scene. Fucking Santa Claus. Literally, that’s what Maggie is doing: fucking Santa Claus (later, not in front of the kids, gross).
I know that this is what romance novels do – plunk down two sexy characters in some time period and flavor their lives with a teensy bit of hardship and a buttload of stereotypes – but it makes me feel skeezy here in a way that novels set in, say, Victorian England just don’t. Pay no attention to the decimation of every native culture! Indians talk funny! White folks are nice! Hey, did I mention they fuck on a rocking chair? That’s patriotic as shit! I think The Eagle agrees with me and that’s why on the cover he’s face-down on the bed with his head turned away. He’s like, “look, I know this is terrible but I have bills to pay and I can’t afford standards right now, so please just focus on the sex and check out my muscular shoulders and let’s forget this ever happened, all right? Sunshine and rainbows! LA LA LA!”
I will say this for Nan Ryan: Maggie never feels bad about wanting to bone The Eagle and he doesn’t strong-arm her into doing things she doesn’t want to do. So. It could have been worse?