Book Review

Red Hawk’s Woman by Karen Kay

F+

Title: Red Hawk's Woman
Author: Karen Kay
Publication Info: Berkley Sensation 2007
ISBN: 0425216039
Genre: Historical: American

To entertain myself while reading this book—because God knows this book was not entertaining, or at least, not intentionally so—I found myself imagining what it’d be like if the various elements of Red Hawk’s Woman were represented by interpetive dancers. I saw it going something like this:

Dramatis Personae:
THE BOOK, represented by a person clad in a dollar-store Indian costume
THE PLOT, represented by a half-baked cake the size of a wading pool
GRAMMAR, represented by a man in a suit
DIALOGUE, represented by a giant ball of twine
MALAPROPISMS, represented by a woman wearing a bright pink spandex leotard covered in sequins and gold puffy paint

Scene:
A darkened stage, with a badly-painted backdrop of mountains and scrub. To the right of the stage is a big tub full of THE PLOT; off to the side is DIALOGUE, an end dangling seductively loose.

THE BOOK leaps out onto the darkened stage, spotlight trained solidly on it. It lets out a loud cry of anguish as it lands badly and breaks its ankle. This, however, does not prevent it from hobbling back on its feet; soon, it is twirling madly, if erratically. Its thrashings inevitably bring it up against GRAMMAR, whom THE BOOK proceeds to grope and molest in the most unseemly manner. MALAPROPISM sees this, and not one to be left out, comes up behind GRAMMAR, bashes him on the head, does the Hustle on his unconscious body and ties him up using some of the twine of DIALOGUE. She then grabs THE BOOK and makes out thoroughly with him. The two of them, lips still firmly locked, proceed to dance again, slowly at first, then going faster and faster, entangling themselves in DIALOGUE in the process, until they trip and fall over the body of GRAMMAR and straight into THE PLOT, where THE BOOK and MALAPROPISMS proceed to swim about, occasionally spuming like whales.

…what, you want an actual summary? And maybe some analysis? What the fuck? You think this is some kind of review site or something?

Bah. Fine. You win. Here’s the review proper:

The book kicks off with an old archaeologist geezer handing off a quartz artifact to a not-so-old archaeologist colleague and telling him that the quartz artifacts are actually the Sweet Savage Thunderer’s children, and that after you collect all four—GOTTA COLLECT THEM ALL, like prehistoric Pokemon—and give them to a living member of the Lost Tribe of Indians, it’ll end their curse.

Curse? What curse? Ah, see, ages and ages ago, a tribe of Indians killed the children of a supernatural being known as the Thunderer. Thunder dude’s pissed, so he kills a buncha tribe members in retaliation, and then curses the rest of them to live in everlasting fog. The Creator, however, takes pity on the schmucks and gives them a chance to redeem themselves: every generation (which, according to the book, is about 50 years—goddamn, that’s a big generation), champions are picked from the teenage boys of the unimaginatively-monickered Lost Tribe to head out into the world to save the tribe’s infanticidal asses. Something about forgiving enemies. Forgive my vagueness and my eagerness to get this over with, because I think my brain started melting down around page 5 of this book, and the damage proceeded apace with every excruciating paragraph.

After telling this story in one long, atrocious infodump, the old geezer, he bites it, and we move on to the plotline proper. So, years later, Not-so-old archaeologist geezer dude is excavating a site in Montana with his family in tow, including his beautiful, precocious pre-pubescent red-haired daughter named Effie.

What? Come on. It’s an Indian romance. Of COURSE the heroine is going to be white, and of COURSE she’s going to have red hair. The slightly rebellious may write a blonde heroine, and the really, really crazy might have a brunette or even a half-breed heroine, but I’m pretty sure that if you try to go beyond the bounds and write a historical romance between, say, two Native American characters or (SHOCK! HORROR!) a black person and a Native American, the Indian Romance Mob will send Tony out to break your kneecaps (or possibly to throw you into the trunk of his Caddy) and remind you of your place.

Aaaanyway. So Effie overhears her father talking about these mysterious quartz figures, and this is yet MORE infodumping and set-up, because Meanwhile, In a Parallel Dimension, One Infinitely Foggier Than Ours…

…a kid named Red Hawk is picked to be the Lost Tribe’s champion when all the other boys are unavailable for one damn reason or another. And he somehow wanders into Our Dimension, and stumbles across Effie taking a swim, and there’s some hilarious and utterly brain-damaged musing on Red Hawk’s part over whether Effie is some sort of magical sea creature because he can’t see her legs (she’s wearing pantaloons and she’s up to her waist in water, ya dipshit) and also some stumbling over OMG Effie is half-naked, but of course she has nothing to be ashamed of, she’s a child and of course so’s Red Hawk (and really, did that have to be noted in any way, shape or form?), and they frolic together like children do, and lo, it was magical, and they exchange little tchotchkes at the end of their frolic, and then before they part, little Effie says—I shit you not:

“I don’t know why I should say this to you,” she said, “for I know that you cannot understand me—and perhaps that is why I feel I must say this—but I think I have fallen in love with you.”

OK, Christ, hurrying on with the plot now, because summarizing this is seriously starting to sap my will to live…so yadda yadda yadda, years pass, Effie becomes a budding young archaeologist in her own right and is tasked with heading an expedition to find the rest of the figurines, and along the way some very literal Dei ex Machinae (Dei ex Aqua, actually), show up and push Red Hawk in the right direction so he becomes her guide, and they instantly fall in love, and some bad guys try to foil them (you know who they are instantly because they’re the people who inspire doubt in Red Hawk), more bla bla bla, the quartz figurines are eventually found via the machinations of even more gods and spirit guides (is that a spoiler? Do I even care?), and voila, Sweet Savage Thunderer has his kidlings back, the social ramifications of Effie marrying Red Hawk are not so much glossed over as packed, struggling, into a gunny sack then drowned like unwanted kittens, and ba-bam, Happily Ever After.

If I could pick one major thing from the embarrassment of riches that is raised by the question “So what’s wrong with this book, really?” it’d have to be how it manages to make the wrong step at just about every turn. It is quite uncanny. To start with, it uses malapropisms with unparalleled panache; besides the old man’s shaking subsisting, Effie goes to have a tête-a-tête with the river. But that’s not the worst of it. Worse than the malapropisms is the way the book is facile in all the wrong places (the relationship between Effie and Red Hawk and its ramifications; the motivation for the villain; the sufferings undergone by the Lost Tribe; the deep-seated anger Red Hawk feels towards the Thunder God for slaying his parents—I could go on) and convoluted in places where simplicity would’ve served (the weird explanations offered as to what archaeology is—is this book aimed at first-graders? COME ON; inexplicable character touches like Red Hawk’s klutziness; dragging in the extraneous gods into the plot).

And to add insult to injury, things happen in strange, disconnected fits and starts. The characters will be puttering along, and OH LOOK, the villain sub-plot will meander its way into the narrative, only to drift away again; and look, Effie’s feeling doubts about playing Bury the Meat Hatchet with Red Hawk, except not really, la dee da; and OOOH hey, we’re supposed to look for artifacts, that’s right, let’s give some half-assed details about an archaeological dig, hur dee hur; ooh, lookit, Red Hawk’s communing with the earth, isn’t that speshul? Etc.

So yeah. This book is terrible. So very, very awful on just about every level.  I started dog-earing pages every time I encountered something egregiously, horribly bad, and I kid you not, about 3/4 of the pages are dog-eared. The poor book can barely stay shut. But you know what?

Still not as bad as cassie Edwards. There’s a line, you see, the Edwards line; other books may approach that asymptote, but none may touch it. There’s no mathematical function that would allow any book to cross the Edwards Line. Which is why I had to create a whole new grade category for this book, i.e., F+. To give it a D- implied that it still kind of sort of maybe passed, but it doesn’t. It fails. On just about every level, it fails. It just doesn’t fail on quite the same catastrophically painful level as an Edwards novel does, largely because this book, while not exactly elegantly-written—or even, y’know, coherent—doesn’t quite feature Edwards’ trademark random ellipses and exclamation points, and really, those are what push the excruciating experience of poor prose that one critical half-notch to “completely unbearable.”

And if there’s one good thing I can say about this book, that would be it. It’s horrible, but it’s still no Cassie Edwards. Damn with faint praise, indeed.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    katieM says:

    Maybe Edwards deserves an F- and this book deserves an F. 

    Perhaps you took this book too seriously and it was really supposed to be a spoof.

  2. 2
    Emma says:

    I have a lot of issues with “Native” Romances.

    1. Most of the time the information is either incorrect or stereotypical.

    2. The names kill me. Red Hawk? How many times has that been used? Seriously.

    but I’m pretty sure that if you try to go beyond the bounds and write a historical romance between, say, two Native American characters or (SHOCK! HORROR!) a black person and a Native American, the Indian Romance Mob will send Tony out to break your kneecaps (or possibly to throw you into the trunk of his Caddy) and remind you of your place.

    I guess Tony will just have to try. I’ve only written a few books with Native hero and in all of them the heroine’s been black. Or black and native. *shrugs* I write what I know.

  3. 3
    Chicklet says:

    Candy, will you marry me? We’d have to move to Massachusetts, but there’s really good Italian food in the North End of Boston. *g*

  4. 4
    Ann Bruce says:

    I got my laugh for the day and learned a new word!  Woohoo!  It’s been productive.

    Any of the Bitches willing to review a certain Ellora’s Cave author by the initials of CL who is luvvvved by Mrs. G?  Just want to see how her books rate against Cassie Edwards’s masterpieces.

  5. 5

    Oh, God, I think I died laughing during the interpretive dance.

    I don’t know why I didn’t classify you as a genius before, Candy.  My oversight entirely.

  6. 6

    Amazing review.  The entire interpretive dance scene?  Words fail me.

  7. 7
    Bron says:

    Candy, you are a Goddess. Your unfailing courage in reviewing this book and Cassie Edwards so thoroughly may in fact save me from having to read them myself. I had been steeling myself to do so, because every serious researcher should be familiar with all aspects of the genre if they’re going to comment on them. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to do so yet.

    See, you are far braver than me. And definitely much, much funnier.

  8. 8
    wendy says:

    Perhaps on reading it a second time you would find it more enjoyable, Candy.
    I will soon be walking to the bakery so hope to have a tete-a-tete with the road.

  9. 9
    TeddyPig says:

    A Cassie Edwards Scale of Crap… must say it has potential.

  10. 10
    Najida says:

    Oh my,
    talk about taking one for the team Candy!

  11. 11
    TeddyPig says:

    I question the assumption here on how really bad Cassie Edwards is.

    Has there been a through review of which book she was truly at her worst in?

    I say we request Candy to review more Cassie Edwards. Just to pinpoint the absolute.

  12. 12
    Carrie Lofty says:

    Candy is brave, brave like Wolverine.

  13. 13
    Charlene says:

    TeddyPig, you’re a braver man than I am to even suggest such a thing.

  14. 14

    So it blew the White Wind, huh?

    I think you’ve earned your very own Native American name by now – maybe Cassie Edwards can suggest one for you

  15. 15
    Robin says:

    AAR gave this one a D and contained some of the same observations as Candy made (without the interpretive dance, of course):
    http://www.likesbooks.com/cgi-bin/bookReview.pl?BookReviewId=6248

    If anyone is interested in a much more authentic novel about the Blackfeet, I highly recommend James Welch’s Fools Crow.  Not a Romance, but a stunning achievement of historical fiction, nonetheless (Welch is himself Blackfeet and Gros Ventre).  Welch is just an incredible wordsmith, IMO, and one of my all-time favorite writers.

  16. 16
    Robin says:

    That first sentence should read, “AAR gave this a D, and the review contained . . . “

  17. 17
    taybug says:

    I like it when you all teach me new words like “asymptote,” which, when I looked it in Webster, I still didn’t understand…

  18. 18
    Stephanie says:

    Aw, Candy, I confess I love the F grade books because then you write these beautiful reviews with interpretive dance scenes and words such as asymptote, and we all learn together. Only we didn’t have to suffer. So yes, it was good for me. Nearly piddled in my pants because I laughed so hard good.

  19. 19

    *dies laughing*

    *is dead*

    *returns briefly from the grave to say thank you for taking the hit so we don’t have to read this book, and then for writing interpretive dance about it*

    “Job21”. Presumably as in the Biblical sufferer.

  20. 20
    smartmensab-tch says:

    Great review Candy!  I laughed so hard one of my dogs came to check on me.  The interpretive dance is an incredible mental picture.  And OMG – that immortal phrase “Bury the Meat Hatchet”…I can’t wait for your and Sarah’s book.  (Oops, is that correct grammar?  Sorry, I really are a colleg gradit – biznes majer.)

  21. 21
    Bella says:

    o holy crap. reading your review, i laughed so much, i feel like i’ve been reading a Thorne Smith novel (funniest author EVER.)

    i’m sure it’s not what you intended, but i want to read it myself now, just to know what true pain is. ‘cause i’m a masochist, donchaknow. but not a dumb one… i’ll borrow, not buy it.

  22. 22
    Charlene says:

    There’s another wonderful thing about this: a female archaeologist in 19th century Montana? An archaeologist AT ALL in 19th century Montana??????

    Is she shitting me? The first real archaeological studies, at least dealing with aboriginal history, north of Mexico were in the mid 1920s in New Mexico.

  23. 23
    darlynne says:

    The dramatis personae? Best. Review. Ever.

  24. 24
    Arethusa says:

    For some reason this review makes me want to dig up my old pair of leotards….

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