Bright Morning Star by Kathryn Fox
(Zebra, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-6045-9
Bright Morning Star starts out as a fast and entertaining read, but disintegrates into a slow and drawn-out tale. While there's lots of interesting facts and information concerning the lives of the Lakota Sioux, the story line revolves around just two questions: Can the heroine get over her fear of Indians? Will the hero ever get over the loss of his beloved first wife? It takes too long to answer those questions and there wasn't enough story in between to keep me entertained while those issues were being resolved.

Sent to Independence, Missouri, to meet an older brother who doesn't show, Josie Hardwick faces the problem of getting herself and Petey, her mentally slow twin brother, back home. Josie needs to get on the Oregon Trail and back to their Pa, without spending money their mean and greedy father would miss.

Normally, the courageous and plucky Josie would have no problem traveling alone with her brother, but Indians have been sighted recently on the Trail. Ever since Indians killed her mother, Josie has been terrified of encountering any "Injuns." For safety's sake, she wants to be part of the wagon train heading West.

However, when wagon master Caleb McCall refuses to hire Josie as a scout, she decides to follow his wagon train. Caleb doesn't understand Josie's fear of Indians. Raised by the Lakota since he was ten years old, Caleb appreciates their way of life. He truly feels great affection for the people and for his "brother," Red Cloud.

Since the death of his beloved Indian wife, Caleb has returned to the white man's world, making his living as a wagon master. He quickly discovers Josie and her brother following his train; Caleb informs Josie that it's too dangerous for her to travel alone. He insists that Josie and Petey join the wagon train and forget about the fee.

Josie's relieved to be a part of the wagon train, and she's determined to carry her weight. She does her best to help others on the train, especially Anna Tolbert. Anna's lost touch with reality and can barely care for her infant son; Josie suspects Anna's husband beats her. Caleb, too, realizes something is very wrong with the Tolberts, especially when he finds out that Red Cloud is following them because he wants Anna and the child.

Bright Morning Star begins with a plucky, feisty heroine who changes into a wimpy, whinny female by the middle of the story. Any woman who can survive a lifetime with a mean, domineering father and still retain her spirit, should certainly be able to cope with a few well-intentioned Indians. The Josie portrayed in the first part of this tale is too smart and too spunky to retain such an irrational fear.

Also, I was disappointed that the very real conflict in this story concerning Josie and her father just fizzles out. Certainly her father qualifies as one of the true villains of this piece and I was looking forward to a day of reckoning between Josie and her cruel parent.

Finally, I must confess I found Caleb's inability to get over his long-dead wife very tiresome. Why, in so many, many romance novels, is the hero's first wife portrayed as either a beloved angel or a hated whore? These portrayals have become standard romance devices, devices that create a plausible reason for the hero to avoid committing his love to the heroine. But this particular device has been done to death; let's allow it to rest in peace, along with the first wives of our heroes.

--Judith Flavell

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