Even though I grew up in the Ozarks and studied the culture of the Arkansas mound builders in grade school, I have never had much interest in fiction dealing with the American Indian. Judie Aitken's tour de force of a first novel, A Love Beyond Time, may just change my way of thinking. Strong characters, a dramatic moment in history, and a mostly unsentimental view of the Plains Indians add up to a very satisfactory book.
Ryan Burke, Ph. D, is an anthropologist employed by the Smithsonian and the newest member of the Little Big Horn Encampment Project. The team leader, archeologist Edwin Gaffney, does not share her delight and enthusiasm at her assignment. Dr. Gaffney expected a male anthropologist, and he immediately makes his displeasure at having a woman on the team very clear.
The other three archeologists on the team are more welcoming. They have their own problems with Gaffney -- they suspect him of stealing artifacts and selling them to private collectors. They can prove nothing, however, and Ryan knows that accusing a scholar of Gaffney's standing without proof would be fatal to all their careers. She settles in and begins recording the oral histories of the descendents of the Indians who were present at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
The first Indian she meets is Charles Antone Crying Wolf, a Lakota Sioux. Charley Crying Wolf is very old, but his mind is still keen and his sense of humor sharp. Charley also believes that artifacts are being stolen from the site. Charley also tells Ryan that his oldest grandson, Dillon Wolf, a lawyer, is planning on meeting with the authorities in Washington to get the site shut down because of the thefts.
Ryan is horrified…so much is being learned at the site…but Charley tells her she can help. "(B)e patient, be careful, and be watchful, very watchful -- like a little mouse." Later, he tells her, there will be even more she can do, when the time is right. "(W)ouldn't it be wonderful if someone could go back to that time over a hundred and twenty years ago and set a trap, an old trap to catch a new thief?"
Charley has a second plan in mind that involves Ryan and his grandson, Dillon. When Dillon visits Charley on the reservation, Charley tries to introduce him to Ryan, but Dillon won't even consider it. He despises all white people; he would certainly never date a white woman. He flies back to Washington for his meeting without seeing Ryan. Not until Ryan travels back to June 1876 will she meet the man then known as Calls to the Wolf.
I was especially interested to see how Aitken would handle Ryan's reactions to the period she visited when she travels in time. A writer should always depict the historical period accurately, but when the time traveler is a trained observer like an anthropologist, with an extensive knowledge of the period she is visiting, any errors on the writer's part will be particularly noticeable. Within the limits of my knowledge of the Plains Indians in the late 19th century and the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Aitken's portrayal of the Indian encampment and the battle rings true.
Even more important, the thoughts and attitudes of Aitken's Lakota Sioux struck me as convincing. Although Calls to the Wolf -- usually known simply as Wolf -- had the traits we all expect in a strong, romantic hero, his attitudes and ways of responding to his world impressed me as appropriate to his time and place.
I could recommend A Love Beyond Time strictly on the basis of its historical authenticity, the well-developed secondary characters such as Charley Crying Wolf and Wolf's 19th century companions, and Aitken's competent writing style, but it was the compelling romance between Ryan and Wolf that kept me turning the pages. In a genre where "happily ever after" is a given, Aitken managed to make me anxious for Ryan and Wolf to find love in the days before a horrific battle and then to find it again in our era. Quite an accomplishment for a first-time author.
--Nancy J. Silberstein