|Apache Warrior is the debut novel by Carol Ann Didier, and there are flashes of strong potential in her writing. Unfortunately, the romance is the standard “Indian kidnaps white woman and they fall in love” plotline, with nothing to mark it as memorable except for the historical detail. Gaps in plot logic and a lot of head-hopping points of view make it difficult to follow at times.
Amanda Carroll and her spoiled younger sister, Candice, are traveling west to live with an uncle in Arizona Territory. They are accompanied by their black servant, Bessie, a riverboat gambler named Damon, and a few other members of the stagecoach party. An Army escort headed by an old friend of the family is traveling with them.
Once into Apache Indian territory, the group is set upon by a small band of warriors. Amanda has time to notice that the leader is mesmerizingly attractive and she is drawn to him in a way she has never felt drawn to another man, etc. when a shot rings out and matters turn ugly. Amanda is whacked on the head by the leader of the war party and thrown across his horse. Several of the stagecoach party lie dead, and when Amanda awakens, she’s the captive of an Apache brave named Kayto.
Kayto is a prominent warrior in his tribe, and he answers to none other than Cochise himself. Cochise will not be happy that this band of warriors has been so foolish as to kill several US Army soldiers, as it will undoubtedly bring down the wrath of the Army on the already-beleaguered Apaches. Kayto can’t explain why he clubbed Amanda and hauled her out of the melee. He tells himself that he only wanted to get this proud, brave woman out of danger before she got shot. Now that he has her, he doesn’t know what to do with her. Kayto decides to take Amanda to his village and give her to his mother as a servant.
At this point, things turn unintentionally hilarious. Kayto and Amanda start out communicating in some sort of pidgin Indian-English dialect, with his referring to her as “White-Eyes woman” and Amanda musing that the stoic Kayto has put on his “no-tellum face.” Four days later, he’s speaking perfect English and she is understanding enough Apache to translate a complicated greeting Kayto’s mother bestows upon her son, and musing on how lovely and poetic it all is.
Of course, with the exception of one jealous Indian girl named Cat Eyes, everyone in the village treats Amanda with respect, rather than as a servant/slave, and soon she is spending lots of time pondering the lifeways of the Apache, deciding that they are probably far more civilized than white men who have tried to drive them off their land. To add to the politically correct tone, Kayto refuses to give in to his lust and simply bed Amanda, because she is probably a virgin and he cannot defile her, nor can he marry her.
So there you have it. Apaches: noble savages who aren’t so savage after all; White folks: evil land-grubbers, and probably smelly to boot. The fact that the prevailing attitudes in 1860 were nowhere near this never figures into the book. Which leads to another unintentional bit of hilarity: the cover quote by Cassie Edwards proclaiming the novel “Wonderfully authentic!” Perhaps she’s referring to the historical detail regarding some of the customs of the Apache, which do seem to be very well done. Ms. Didier obviously did a lot of research in this area.
Amanda is soon wrapped up in village life and wondering if Kayto returns her growing admiration. In fact, for long stretches she seems to completely forget about her sister and Bessie. With the exception of Cat Eyes, she is subjected to no mistreatment at all, which readers may find difficult to accept. Soon Amanda is comparing the Apaches with her own people, determined to help the two groups try and understand each other better. Readers’ enjoyment of this story is going to hinge on their acceptance of this ultra-modern outlook.
There are several incidents requiring that Kayto rescue Amanda, once from one of the stinking Whites, and Cat Eyes schemes against her, but overall, it’s all standard stuff. The author even leaves the door open for a story about Candice, the sister. As for the romance between Kayto and Amanda, it mostly consists of longing glances.
Carol Ann Didier has definite potential in historical romance. Her dialogue is never groan-inducing, and her details do add dimension to the story. Lightning-fast point of view switches are a common problem in first novels, and what this book needed was better editing to help Ms. Didier eliminate some of them. As for the ultra-PC tone, it may explain why there are so few Indian historical romances these days. I’ll pick up another book by Carol Ann Didier, but I hope she tries another historical subgenre in which to polish her talents.