Flaming Arrow by Cassie Edwards
(Topaz, $5.99, PG-13 ISBN 0-451-40757-1
*
How does Cassie Edwards keep churning out all those Indian romances? It is one of those deep, imponderable mysteries. Such as how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop. The world may never know.

But you must hand it to Edwards. She has Puritan work ethic. She has the market cornered on a particular brand of romance sub-genre. One might say a lot about her writing, her plots, her character development or lack thereof, her criminal abuse of exclamation points, but nobody can call her lazy. She is an industry unto herself, having written oodles of these books.

This year's model of the Edwards' Indian romance is titled Flaming Arrow.. It is also the name of the hero.

Flaming Arrow is Blackfoot, though it hardly seems to matter. The previous Edwards' book I read identified the hero as Ojibwa. But never mind; they are the same fellow.

Flaming Arrow has been badly treated by the stinking whites. Whites are almost universally stinky in this book, with the notable exception of the white heroine. She no doubt, hardy pioneer lass that she is, smells of Chanel No.5.

Flaming Arrow, unjustly imprisoned and unaccountably freed by the stinking white soldiers, strides off into the wilderness to reunite with his people. Instead he bumps into the heroine, Valerie Ross.

Valerie is the daughter of white settlers who have moved on to Indian lands. The U.S. government is forcibly removing Flaming Arrow's tribe to a reservation to make room. Flaming Arrow discovers Valerie at the site of his former village, now vacated, and Flaming Arrow is mightily ticked off.

But wait! He also finds her strangely, compellingly beautiful. Was there ever any doubt? Anyway, Flaming Arrow takes Valerie as his captive. Valerie is justified at having qualms about such an old hat plot device. But after all, Flaming Arrow is very handsome, and a real live chief to boot. Valerie cannot but "deep down, admire this powerful Blackfoot chief...She knew that such men were always so noble. So strong-willed, so admired!"

Dear me! A "noble savage"? But reader, this is only the beginning of a virtual encyclopedia of Indian clichés. To be perfectly fair, I was just as aggravated by the blonde and brain-dead heroine as I was by the stereotypical 'noble savage' hero. Can you believe that Valerie has a pistol when Flaming Arrow takes her prisoner, but is too afraid to shoot her toes off to defend herself?

As for the romance itself, I never saw these two characters as anything but the most minimal stick figures, so there's no reason to care about them. Because they discover and declare their love very quickly, the element of suspense is absent. There are plenty of love scenes, which I suppose, sad to say, is the whole point of Flaming Arrow.

In the past, I have made comments on the fundamental lack of humor in Edwards' ouevre, and Flaming Arrow is no exception. Recently, an Edwards fan wrote me to suggest that Edwards' books reflect the brutal reality of life on the frontier. The Indians, in particular, certainly got the short end of the stick, with little room for hilarity. So be it. But I cannot believe that Edwards' books represent the historical reality of the American West. Every chapter contains at least one bizarre anachronism, such as when Flaming Arrow compares his people to the dinosaurs. Or when Valerie's brother looks for Indian 'artifacts' at the site of a recently razed village. Or, when a bad white dude is described as an 'extreme racist'. Wilderness survival, which my correspondent informs me was very difficult, is depicted as a pastoral idyll. Life in a tepee, except for the stinking whites, is damn near perfect.

Now, I realize 'romanticizing' history is part of the job of a historical romance. But I never for one moment believed these folks to be living in nineteenth-century Montana, and the "suspension of disbelief", an illusion of reality, is necessary for any kind of fiction. In short, Flaming Arrow cannot be described as historical reality. Hysterical, perhaps, but not historical.

The idea of an Indian romance in the great, untamed American wilderness, certainly has its enduring charm. But what I can't like are poorly researched, shabbily written, trivial melodramas such as Flaming Arrow. Perhaps Cassie Edwards is an earnest soul who only wishes to honor Indians by inventing stories about them. But inadvertently, she is capitalizing on their tragic history, without doing them any return service. One hopes that she contributes generously to Native American causes.

--Meredith Moore


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