Friday, February 4, 2011

Wild at Heart by Crystal Kauffman

TITLE: Wild at Heart
AUTHOR: Crystal Kauffman
PUBLISHER: Lyrical Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 26k)
GENRE: Historical erotic romance
COST: $3.50

Penny Thompson has been promised in marriage to a friend of her brother’s from college, a man she has never met. But her world gets turned upside down when she meets John Black Feather, another friend of her brother’s, the half-breed son of the Navajo chief . John is enthralled by the tempestuous, independent woman, and while he knows he should stay away from her, the attraction between them is too combustible to ignore…

Sometimes I feel guilty admitting some of my kinks. I’ve made it clear before that I have a real soft spot for Native American heroes, but honestly, I’m not sure why I keep bothering since so few authors ever move beyond the stereotypical noble savage archetype, especially in historicals.

This story is no better. The heroine, Penny, is a tomboy at heart, helping as much with the horses as her big brother does. She can’t cook, she hates dresses, and the last thing she wants is to get married. Except her big brother Will has decided it’s time for that to happen and arranged for her to marry one of his friends from college back east. The story opens with her trying to catch a wild stallion, only to discover that it actually belongs to Will’s Navajo friend, John Black Feather. John is the son of the Navajo chief and a white woman, and acts in many ways as a liaison between the tribe and the local white men. To Penny, he’s the most beautiful man she’s ever seen, and her first attraction to him explodes when he reciprocates.

It’s evident from the start that the prose isn’t anything special. It’s clean enough editorially, but it tends to lack verve or passion, even during the sex scenes. Part of that stems from the sheer predictability of the whole thing. The story feels like it’s been written a thousand times before, twenty years ago. The misunderstood Native American, the misunderstood heroine, the attraction of his savage beauty, and so on and so on. If that’s what a reader wants, then great, but really, I felt guilty as I was reading, partially because I could actually see a superficial appeal in John, partially because it felt like I should be reading something that actually gave the Native Americans some new depths. That’s my issue, though. I fully recognize some readers, especially those that might be drawn to this in the first place, won’t care about either things.

For them, Penny is appropriately strong-willed and relatable, while John is sexy and enigmatic, disappearing like a ghost after nearly every encounter. The plot chugs along with little surprises, and ultimately, it just turns into a waiting game to get to the end. The sex scenes are serviceable, if formulaic, and for the traditionalist, John gets to be the hero in the end (though that should not be a surprise at all).

But none of it is new or fresh, and I'm left still hoping that someone out there is interested in creating a three-dimensional Native American hero that I can fall in love with.


6/10 – Simplistic prose and a sense of the throwback makes it an easy, but unchallenging, read


6/10 – Lots of potential never realized


6/10 – Spunky but ultimately incredibly predictable

Entertainment value

4/10 – Felt like a throwback to older romances that were all about the allure of the noble savage

World building

6/10 – Some of the attempts to recreate the western historical life are there, but it doesn’t leap off the page



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