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CLASSIC REVIEW: Savage Thunder by Johanna Lindsey

This classic review is by The Fallen Professor who is a former literature academic who now runs her own freelance business and indulges in whatever the hell she wants to read. She’s especially fond of historical and paranormal romances, though she won’t turn her nose up at a good contemporary. Visit The Fallen Professor at her blog.

Savage Thunder Johanna LindseyDear Ms. Lindsey,

Colt Thunder was my first lover.

My relationship to Savage Thunder is long and complicated, and intimately tied to my reading life, so this review is long, long, long; it also contains a good dose of nostalgia.

 

Part 1: The Memory

 

Sometime during my senior year in high school, I found myself alone in a coffee shop; it specialized in artisan fudge, which is why I was really there (my love for coffee didn’t start until college). The fact that I was alone is important, because what happened next would never have taken place had I been accompanied by family or friends.

I was in the middle of making a life-or-death decision (almond or marbled fudge?), when I noticed a rickety book rack next to the counter, stuffed to bursting with paperbacks for sale. Front and centre, I saw a thick volume with the intriguing title of Savage Thunder.

And yes, it was the original cover, which looked like this:

[PLACE ORIGINAL COVER HERE]

And yes, I believe that’s Fabio in black hair dye.

This was my chance. I’d been to friends’ homes and noticed shelves full of books sporting such covers in their parents’ dens and living rooms. I’d sneaked peeks at them, and knew what they were about. I’d even formed part of a circle of classmates who had passed around an old battered copy of Judy Blume’s Forever… Not strictly a romance novel, I know, but the closest I’d come to one; I’d been smitten by Michael, and my heart broke for Katherine. And I wanted more.

But it was a risky move. I grew up in a literature-loving household; was currently enrolled in Advanced Placement English; and had by then decided to become an English major. This book felt, for lack of a better or gentler expression, as though it should be beneath me. And yet, I really, really wanted to read it, even knowing I’d feel the need to hide it in the deepest reaches of my sock drawer. In a rush of adrenaline that I still remember more than twenty years later, I snatched up the book, placed it face down on the counter, and paid for it along with my fudge. I know, what a combo platter, right? It seemed like the quintessential lonely girl special.

And I guess I was, in a sense. I was bookish and shy, and would eventually go on to take an arranged date to my prom. But loneliness is not what drew me to Savage Thunder and romance novels in general. Neither was the sex; I was introverted, but not sheltered. Looking back, the one word I can use to describe this fascination that I had is desire. I was intrigued by the courtships described in romance novel blurbs, and especially by the earthshaking attraction that seemed to erupt between hero and heroine.

To think that someone could desire me so fiercely, seen from the awkward high school social scene that was my daily environment, seemed unreal. And, while I can’t say that I modelled any one of my later relationships on what I read in these books, I probably did unconsciously use that image of focused desire as a touchstone at times.

But I digress.

Part 2: The Novel

So here we are, Ms. Lindsey, finally getting around to discussing your novel.

As I suggested in the beginning, I have mixed feelings about your book. On the one hand, it’s an irresistible read that I’ve returned to regularly over the years; every time I pick it up, I realize that I have many passages memorized. On the other hand, there are aspects of Savage Thunder that make me incredibly uncomfortable. So I’ll try to address both of these sides in my discussion. I’m going to leave out a detailed description of the plot, because I don’t want to give too much away and this is already going to be long.

First, I need to tackle the title, which I’ve always disliked because I couldn’t see a reason for it. At first glance, it sounds innocuous: a reference to severe weather patterns? We have much savage thunder in summertime where I live. But then we find out the hero’s name is White/Colt Thunder, and that he’s a “half-breed” because he’s part Cheyenne, and… huh? Is that really the reference you want to be making with the title? There’s certainly plenty of racism directed at Mr. Thunder throughout the novel, but not by the “good guys” (mostly… more on that later), and I don’t understand why the title should seem to reflect their mindset.

And, although the book’s reissue has changed the cover art, I have to say that the original cover made me grit my teeth because it didn’t seem to reflect the characters at all. Jocelyn would not have been caught dead swooning at Colt’s feet in that fashion: this is, after all, the woman who at one point takes off on Colt’s horse and leaves him stranded to cool off after an argument. But it’s a cover typical of the era the book was published, and nowadays the Fabio-ness of it is campy enough to simply make me smile.

So now that we know who our hero is, I come to my next point of discomfort: the American Indian romance hero. And here I must confess that, aside from an ill-advised foray into the magical land of Cassie Edwards’ cardboard warriors (I read Savage Fires right before Smart Bitches reported on Edwards’ alleged plagiarism), Savage Thunder is the only novel I’ve read in this sub genre. So please take my comments as those of a largely inexperienced reader in the field.

There’s an aspect of the race conflict in Savage Thunder that I do appreciate: as someone of mixed heritage, Colt is aware that he fits in neither here nor there, and much of his personal battle comes from his need to find a place in society (or, as he does for much of the novel, to stay away from it). He’s been the Cheyenne warrior; he’s been the passing-for-white ranch hand (with near fatal results); and by the time he runs into Jocelyn he’s decided to make sure his Cheyenne half is visible enough to prevent misunderstandings, while at the same time embracing many of white society’s trappings (mainly evident in his lightning-quick gun skills). He wants to make sure people know what he is, so that the events detailed in the Prologue aren’t repeated; but at the same time he’s ready to defend himself in the way of the society that rejects him. Challenge Colt Thunder and you’ll likely die in the ensuing shootout.

This tension between his Cheyenne and white heritage makes for a very compelling hero, especially once he begins to be romantically pursued by someone who doesn’t seem to care about his mixed race. As an aside, during my very first reading of Savage Thunder, I was also studying Wuthering Heights, whose hero, Heathcliff, is also (though one wouldn’t know this from most movie adaptations) described as being of mixed or indeterminate race. Though Colt’s story thankfully ends much differently than Heathcliff’s, the parallels made Savage Thunder that much more interesting.

However, I also have some issues with the race aspect. I have to admit that these developed over years of rereads, since at first Colt was just exotic and rugged for me (just as he was for Jocelyn). As I mentioned, there are many racist comments directed towards Colt, mainly from characters with whom we’re clearly not supposed to sympathize. Mainly. Because we also have passages like:

“If he had come across her six years ago, he would have simply ridden off with her and made her his. But he was ‘civilized’ now…” (Colt’s POV)

“He was so damn unpredictable when the Indian side of him was dominant. Billy needed to pacify him and quick.” (from the POV of Billy, Colt’s white half-brother)

“Riches had no meaning for someone like Colt. He still lived off the land just as he always had. Jessie had failed to civilize him in that respect.” (Billy’s POV; Jessie is Colt’s white half-sister)

“‘Do you know what would happen to you if I had found you then? This – and a helluva lot more. We not only raped white women, we made slaves of them.’” (Colt to Jocelyn)

This spills over into the love scenes, which are passionate but sometimes border on violent. There’s a first kiss given as quasi-punishment, and the first sex scene is preceded by Colt’s surrender to his “primitive side”: “despite his single-minded determination, he forced himself to give her one last opportunity to escape what he could no longer control… ‘Scream now, Duchess, while you’ve got the chance. You won’t get another.’” Um… swoon? There’s also an exotic sex scene, on horseback. Even when I first read the book and had never been on a horse, it sounded silly; now, as a seasoned rider, I can confidently say: “WTF!?!” and “Owieowieowie!” But again, the clothes-ripping and carrying off to bed are typical of many Old School 80s romance novels.

However, this left me wondering whether the characterization of American Indian characters always falls towards the same tropes of (1) possessive treatment of the heroine with culture as justification; (2) someone whose “primitive instincts” need to be controlled in the presence of a virtuous (and white) heroine; (3) a disdain of material goods and deep love/understanding of nature; and (4) the previous three points being what makes this type of hero sexy for the heroine (and, by extension, the reader). The fact that, in the final scene, Colt is described as looking “less Indian” (not the actual quote) when he proposes to Jocelyn just reinforces the stereotype for me: she has managed to somewhat tame his “savage” side.

Again, I know this type of alpha hero is very much the product of the times, and in this sense Colt falls in line with the dukes, rakes, pirates, and other macho, macho men. The problem for me is that his personality can’t be separated from his race and culture: from the title, to the way friends and enemies move around him, to his own confessions of “primitive” urges, Colt sometimes comes across as one big (albeit drop-dead gorgeous) walking stereotype. Add in the fact that romances in this sub genre, are written by (from what I’ve seen) authors from outside their characters’ culture, and things become even more complicated. On the one hand, romance novels with racial diversity are always welcome; on the other hand, to what extent are we romanticizing cultures whose realities we might not fully comprehend?

And here I’d like to ask a serious question: What makes American Indian heroes (or, less commonly, heroines) so attractive for readers that there’s an entire field of romance writing devoted to them? Unlike the decadent, wealthy sheiks that are also a staple of romance novels, the Native American romance hero belongs to a group ostracized and persecuted in the time period these books usually cover (and the present-day reality for many is not much better).

I’m sorry to have started with what I didn’t like about Savage Thunder, Ms. Lindsey. I was taught, when learning to write critiques, that I should point out the good aspects first, before heading into the negatives; obviously, I have failed here. But I wanted to get these points out of the way, because the love story at the heart of this book is really terrific.

What I liked most about the courtship is that it’s Jocelyn doing most of the pursuing. Sure, her initial reasons for chasing after Colt are fairly superficial (the argument for needing to lose her virginity seems frankly ludicrous to me); but she realizes early on that she’s fallen hard for him, and refuses to give up or let him demean himself and think himself beneath her. As an introduction to romance novels, she’s a stellar heroine-guide: without taking away from the hero’s alpha nature, she leaves him speechless over and over with her courage and skills. Jocelyn is in the vein of Jessica Trent from Lord of Scoundrels, although Jessica is even more badass in my opinion.

And Colt? Oh, Colt Thunder. As someone tweeted in reply when I mentioned I was doing this review: “Colt Thunder is so good.” Indeed he is. He’s of an alpha variety that I’d run from screaming in real life; but he also gives credit where credit is due, and does not turn a blind eye to Jocelyn’s knowledge of horses, or her skill with a gun. For all her extravagance and easy use of wealth, she’s willing to rough it with him during their camping journey to Wyoming, and he acknowledges her bravery in this. He’s also someone who’s been hurt in horrible ways throughout his life, and has lost much of his Cheyenne family to white society’s greed for gold. But still, he lives among them, and has retained a strong code of ethics that allow him to let someone who had insulted him to the point of triggering a duel to run away without receiving a bullet to the back.

For these reasons, plus a plot that always keeps me turning the pages (and believe me, I have it well memorized by now) and secondary characters that are well fleshed out and sympathetic (I love Vanessa and Angel), Savage Thunder remains a much beloved book in my collection, all reticence about stereotypes aside.

If you’ve made it this far, Dear Author readers, I thank you! I wish I had a prize to give out.

And now it looks like I need to think of a grade for this book. It’s a difficult decision, because I haven’t done any grading since my teaching days, and even then it wasn’t my favourite part of being in the classroom. But here goes. My misgivings about the book would put it at about a C; but its redeeming qualities (great characters, smoking-hot chemistry, the fact that it’s been a memorable part of my reading life since the year it was published) would put it at an A. So in all fairness, I’ll have to average my mixed feelings and give Savage Thunder a B.

And yes, the line “Because I’m going to lay you on that bed and fill you with my flesh” still makes my knees weak.

 

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54 Comments

  1. Solace Ames
    May 02, 2014 @ 11:20:32

    While I’ve never read this book nor plan to, I think the answer to this question—”And here I’d like to ask a serious question: What makes American Indian heroes (or, less commonly, heroines) so attractive for readers that there’s an entire field of romance writing devoted to them? “—is incredibly easy.

    There are two kinds of Native Americans, real ones and fantasy ones. The fantasy ones are all conveniently dead and in the past or in pages of romance books. The real ones don’t have enough of a media voice to loudly complain about how bullshit and racist the fantasy ones are, and when they do complain, they’re ignored.

    The same goes for sheikhs. Sheikh romances are based on a pure fantasy and have nothing to do with real sheikhs… they aren’t even Muslim. Google Suleikha Snyder’s piece on sheikh romances for a breakdown.

    “Exotic Others” get romanticized up until the point that they gain enough of a media voice to complain about this treatment in a way that white readers will actually hear. Until then, it’s open season.

    I’d also suggesting reading the DA review for Unbound by Lorelei James. Exact same dynamic, except applied to Japanese culture. Erase, fetishize, romanticize… profit!

  2. mari
    May 02, 2014 @ 11:45:33

    I dunno..didn’t Native Americans rape and pillage and plunder? Wasn’t this kind of modus operandi for war among all peoples, then and now? I am thinking of the old school medieval romance I am reading..all the characters are white, but alot of the behavior and language atrributed to Colt here as racist, are fully embraced and shown by the white male characters in medieval society. (Bride of the Lion by Elizabeth Stuart, great book BTW) Is it only racist when “half-breeds” are depicted being savage? *shrugs*

    And people do talk the way they talk, often without a diversity moderator censoring their language. As long as the guy is hot and the romance is good, couldn’t care less that the language and descriptions don’t pass today’s exquisite PC sensitivities.

    I think I will re-read this one, have fond memories of that horseback riding scene! Thanks for the review.

  3. Susan
    May 02, 2014 @ 11:47:35

    I’d have to say that this is my favorite Lindsey. I was late starting her books since I’d taken a long hiatus from romance, and this was the first one of hers I picked up. I guess that’s why I remember it so vividly when I have no clear recollection of any of the others. Despite some of its problems, it was a darn good romance.

    I have to say that one of the main things that bothered me about Lindsey’s books–this one included–was how abruptly they ended. It was as if she suddenly decided that she’d made her point and then bye. I’m not a reader that always needs one of those happily ever after epilogs, but I’d like a bit more wrap up than that.

  4. mari
    May 02, 2014 @ 11:48:33

    Oooooooh..and she’s a Virgin Widow! Can’t wait! This is one of my favorite old school tropes!

  5. Erin Burns
    May 02, 2014 @ 11:56:30

    I think this might be one of the few Johanna Lyndsey books I haven’t read, likely because I avoided this sub-genre because invariably the heroes looked or sounded like my dad, which is not conducive to romantic enjoyment in a young teen. (Creepily enough I had friends who read this sub genre for the same reason-my dad) I think the reason this sub genre is so popular is the reason the stories about any two people from disparate cultures or financial means is popular. Readers enjoy reading love stories about couples who just don’t make sense with Alpha males one would likely be wary of in the real world. The Duke with the governess or paid companion? The Sheik and the American? The pirate and the noblewoman (or nobleman-Julie Garwood anyone?). They are all equally ridiculous which is part of what makes them delicious.

    As for the notion of him having to repress his nature, that seemed to be common of all men in bodice rippers, regardless of race and station. It always seemed to be more a Madonna/Whore dichotomy than any aspersion on heritage. I can see how it would be more highlighted here though when paired with a character we have preconceived notions of racism against for supposed savagery.

    I wasn’t to bothered by the use of the word Savage in the title either, I seem to recall it being incredibly common.

  6. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 12:06:08

    @Solace Ames: Yup, it’s certainly the otherness that gets romanticized as exotic, and as you point out it’s based on a construct that was quite in the realm of fantasy.

    But it makes me wonder about the other racial groups from that era that I haven’t seen in historical romances. For example, are there Western romance novels featuring Chinese railroad laborers? I’m asking in complete honesty, because I’ve read so few Western romances.

    An interesting (nonfiction) book about the racial reality of the American West during the time depicted in Savage Thunder is “Racial Frontiers: Africans, Chinese, and Mexicans in Western America, 1848-1890″ by Arnoldo de Leon.

  7. MrsJoseph
    May 02, 2014 @ 12:08:05

    I remember enjoying this one quite a bit during my Lindsey glomming days!

    My favorite Lindsey is the “sequel” to this one, “Angel” (not to be confused with her “Silver Angel”).

  8. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 12:13:36

    @mari: True: war is war and there has certainly been brutality across the cultures. Viking novels (I’ve read very few) also build this type of environment. White society in Savage Thunder is shown in a nasty light, what with Colt’s treatment in the Prologue and the fate of his Cheyenne family.

    My issue had to do with words like “primitive” repeatedly tacked on to these statements when they came from people who supposedly love Colt no matter his heritage. I do think the book does a splendid job depicting the racism (and, in Colt’s case, understandable self-deprecation) of the period.

    Even more interesting is that this situation is mirrored in Jocelyn’s, since she hails from a place where class distinctions are so important. There’s a scene in which Billy upbraids her guards for bringing up nobility and class differences; he points out that everyone in America is on equal footing socially… and yet, we know from the environment he observes around Colt that this is not true.

  9. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 12:16:14

    @Susan: Yes! The final scene is all like: “Okay, the bad guy’s gone, let’s get married! I loved you all along! THE END”

    This is the only Lindsey I’ve read, but I found out while doing this review, that Savage Thunder is the middle book in a trilogy (I think it’s called the Wyoming series or something like that). The first book is about Colt’s sister Jessie, and the third book is about Angel. I might pick up the one on Angel, since I found him to be a terrific secondary character here.

  10. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 12:16:48

    @MrsJoseph: I loved Angel in Savage Thunder, so I might have to pick that one up!

  11. Isobel Carr
    May 02, 2014 @ 12:17:57

    @mari:

    alot of the behavior and language atrributed to Colt here as racist, are fully embraced and shown by the white male characters in medieval society. (Bride of the Lion by Elizabeth Stuart, great book BTW) Is it only racist when “half-breeds” are depicted being savage? *shrugs*

    Oh, FFS! I honestly try not to get riled about your trolling, but this is just beyond the pale. It’s RACIST because his “uncivilized” behavior is linked in every negative way SPECIFICALLY to his race. This isn’t even debatable.

  12. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 12:20:53

    @mari: Yup, a virgin widow coming out of a marriage of convenience!

    However, there are some very tender scenes at the beginning of the book between Jocelyn and her then-husband, Eddie. This is something I hadn’t paid attention to 20+ years ago when I first read this (because I just wanted Colt, dammit!), but during my reread I was really moved by the start of Jocelyn’s story. She loves her husband; he’s been a friend and guardian angel to her, and this makes her reasons for wanting to lose her virginity before remarrying almost plausible for me.

  13. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 12:24:05

    @Erin Burns: Yeah, most of Cassie Edwards’ book list includes the word “Savage” in the title. So it’s not uncommon, but still stops me in my tracks when I see it, trying to come up with just one meaning I could possibly attach to it that won’t make me want to toss the book across the room..

  14. Laura Vivanco
    May 02, 2014 @ 12:31:31

    @Fallen Professor:

    it makes me wonder about the other racial groups from that era that I haven’t seen in historical romances. For example, are there Western romance novels featuring Chinese railroad laborers? I’m asking in complete honesty, because I’ve read so few Western romances.

    No, you don’t get many romances featuring Chinese railroad laborers (Sharon Cullars’ Gold Mountain’s a rare exception and it’s been reviewed at Dear Author). You also don’t get many romances featuring African-Americans in the West either (though you’ll find them in Beverly Jenkins’ romances).

    Olivia Waite recently wrote a really good post about the appeal of the stereotypical Native American hero. I’ve done a roundup of the academic response to these novels too.

  15. MrsJoseph
    May 02, 2014 @ 12:32:23

    @Fallen Professor: I think you’d really like it! Colt and Jocelyn as well as Jessie and her beau all have small walk-ons in the end. Nice tidy bows and all that.

    There isn’t as much emotional angst in Angel as there was in Savage Thunder, IIRC. Their conflict was slightly different. But its been so long since I read Savage Thunder…don’t quote me on that.

  16. Lisa J
    May 02, 2014 @ 12:46:22

    @MrsJoseph: I am so with you on Angel. It’s awesome for the crazy. I had to buy it the minute it was available in e format. Now, I reread it at least twice a year.

  17. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 12:53:15

    @Lisa J: Did you say “the crazy”? SOLD! And into the TBR folder it goes…

    Although there seems to be a mixup on the Amazon page for this book, because there’s the following section of reviews:

    Review
    “A mesmerizing and hilarious tour de force.” — — Us Weekly

    “An engaging comedy of manners…Prose once again proves herself one of out great cultural satirists.” — — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

    “Her trenchant satire of sexual harassment gives political correctness a much deserved poke in the eye.” — — Vanity Fair

    I’m pretty sure we’re not talking about the same book here, although part of me wants to see the “engaging comedy of manners”…

    “Prose is a pro, and this funny yet devastating novel will rock literary and academic worlds alike.” — — Mademoiselle

    “Screamingly funny.” — — USA Today

  18. MrsJoseph
    May 02, 2014 @ 12:55:06

    @Lisa J: OMG Yes!! The crazy going on in Angel is the best. But sweet. :)

  19. MrsJoseph
    May 02, 2014 @ 12:56:10

    @Fallen Professor: Comedy of Manners? Really?? There is comedy…and there is manners…but…

    O_o

  20. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 13:01:15

    @MrsJoseph: Yeah, somehow I don’t think they’re referring to the same book here… It seems to be for Blue Angel, by Francine Prose (which just went into my Wish List: academic satire sounds right up my alley!).

    And I didn’t really think that Kirkus would have reviewed Angel, much less called Lindsey a “great cultural satirist”!

  21. Tanya
    May 02, 2014 @ 13:08:22

    Man, you are taking me way back with this one. So much so but all I remember is the horseback sex and atrocious cover because…reasons.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. It was a lot of fun to read. Now I have to decide which prehistoric romance I’d like to write about (grins evilly).

  22. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 13:12:48

    @Tanya: Just look for the Fabio covers, and you’ll have plenty of inspiration, haha! In fact, there should be a review series for Fabio cover novels. Although now that I remember, didn’t he actually “write” a couple of romance novels himself some time back?

  23. Robin/Janet
    May 02, 2014 @ 13:54:11

    @mari: See, here’s the thing: putting aside the overt political agenda your invocation of “PC sensibilities,” your perception of them as “today’s” is historically incorrect. Debates over the stereotyping of Native Americans is evident even in some 18th century texts. Although everyone “knows” the story of Daniel Boone, for example, few have actually read his narrative, and it’s a pretty powerful critique of the way Europeans (including “Americans) perceived and described the indigenous nations.

    Moreover, scholarship on this subject has been active for decades. Richard Slotkin’s Regeneration Through Violence was first published in 1975 and has become a classic text on the subject of representation, appropriation, and hegemony. Reginald Horsman’s Race and Manifest Destiny was published in 1981, and Edward Spicer’s incredibly influential Cycles of Conquest dates back to 1967. There are many other references, and, as I indicated before, there is a long history of discussion and debate about the construction of identity around different cultural and racial groups. But I assume you — as a librarian — know this.

    Also, I remember when you attacked Amiri Baraka for anti-Semitism, and your apparent concern for Jewish identity suggests strongly that you don’t dismiss ALL concerns about how people are represented and treated. So I’m not sure why it’s okay for Lindsey to engage in what basically amounts to insulting and denigrating stereotypes of an entire race of people, but it’s not okay for Amiri Baraka to make anti-Semitic comments. Because it’s basically the same thing, and if you think it’s wrong in one instance, to dismiss it out of hand in another is, at the very least, profoundly inconsistent and illogical.

  24. Carolyn Jewel
    May 02, 2014 @ 14:09:44

    I’m pretty sure I read this book years and years ago.

    It’s important to remember that in the 80s publishers exerted a tremendous amount of control over the content, up to and including editors actually insisting that heroes rape the heroine. I would imagine that Lindsey had essentially zero control over the title, by the way. Just as I also believe that there were people involved who believed the use of “Savage” in a title featuring a NA hero was clever, as opposed to racist and offensive. I would urge everyone who can to listen to Jude Devereaux’s RWA workshop (RWA18-082CR) from 2013 to get a sense of the mind-set involved.

    We all need to remind ourselves that the institutionalized racism and misogyny of the time was – What would even be the word for it, — accepted as true, along with no one thinking that anyone who was NA mattered to the economics of selling books.

    A review that comments on all the problematic themes that went unquestioned or, as you will discover in the Devereaux workshop, were resisted by authors (who were subsequently punished for that resistance) in such books serves as an important reminder of how far we have yet to go.

    And then we need to remind ourselves that not all that much has changed. We have commenters here whose privilege blinds them to the difference between calling someone “savage” and calling someone “savage” BECAUSE of their race.

    Context matters. Words are loaded in different ways when we apply them to different people and we all need to recognize that. Calling a medieval knight “savage” is fundamentally not the same thing as calling a Native American man savage. In the former context, it means exactly we’d read in a dictionary definition. The word “savage” applied to a NA means something else entirely. The NA is “savage” because of his race, not because of his actions in war. The medieval knight walks off the battlefield and engages in unsavage Courtly Love. The Native American man walks off the battlefield and remains savage. It’s appalling that anyone would fail to see the distinction or pretend that words mean the same thing in all contexts.

    Lastly, a review like this should remind us all to think about the things we read and write today that contain those same elements of blindness to someone else’s reality. In what ways are we continuing to diminish people of color?

  25. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 14:10:06

    @Laura Vivanco: Thank you! I was looking for something like this. As I said, I’ve just skimmed the surface of this subgenre; but as a former academic, I’m always interested in the history and reception of texts, and romance fiction is especially fascinating in this regard. Just the evolution from the 70’s/80’s forced seductions to today’s standard has been a huge change, in my opinion; so it stands to reason that elements such as race would change over time as well. And yet, I don’t see nearly as much (positive, non-stereotyped) diversity as I’d like…

  26. Lisa J
    May 02, 2014 @ 14:14:23

    @MrsJoseph: Definitely sweet. There are several Lindsey’s that fit that description and I do love them all.

    @Fallen Professor: I think they may have been talking about a different book. I would have believed it was this book if they had mentioned a panther and an elephant. You should definitely give Angel a try. A Heart So Wild is another one I enjoy over and over.

  27. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 14:17:08

    @Lisa J: Yes, the Amazon page seems to have been referring to Blue Angel, by Francine Prose (which seems like a great book, too).

  28. batgrl
    May 02, 2014 @ 15:03:44

    Whenever I read anything that links native Americans with the words “primitive” and “savage” it reminds me of some of the literature produced during the British Empire period, where everyone was all about colonization and there was a lot of “British culture is superior” floating around. In a lot of the writing it was clear that the whites were not merely scoffing at the living conditions or the clothes, they felt these were beings of lesser intelligence and therefore could be treated like children, or much much worse. You can find a lot of this in writing about the native Americans by colonists from multiple European countries too.

    The problem for me when reading it in romance and other fiction is that it twists the reality in the same way the “magical Indian” or “magical black man” tropes do – and no matter what I’m reading, if I come upon something like that, bam, I’m out of the book and in the Critique Zone. Because I can’t *not* be critical of it in a way that immediately means I’m not going to enjoy the story, and instead start thinking about how I want to actively not be part of that mindset.

    While the books about Vikings and the middle ages are often as inaccurate with their depictions of what life was actually like as the “primitive savage” Indian stories, the difference in reading something that always portrays Native Americans in a stereotypical way is that there are a lot of native Americans currently alive and living next door to most of us. Not many medieval Crusaders are going to be writing thoughtful essays about how they’ve been stereotyped by a recent book – but I’ve read many such essays by contemporary people on how they feel about their depiction in literature.

  29. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 15:05:56

    @Carolyn Jewel: Thank you, that was exactly the problem with the whole “savage” description I was trying to point to. Thank you, as well, for the insight into publishing demands; I’ll make sure to look for that Deveraux talk, since I’ll be reviewing one of her novels next.

    The sex itself wasn’t a huge issue for me in Savage Thunder; Jocelyn does most of the seducing (albeit in her own naive way), and the first sex scene is with her consent, and is actually the result of her seduction plans going somewhat askew; it actually has a touch of humor in it, and Colt proves to be quite gentle. The fact that he prefaces this scene with the statement that his “primitive side” had won out… well…

  30. Christine E
    May 02, 2014 @ 15:09:05

    I have a shelf of Johanna books from my late teens, almost all featuring Fabio in various guises :-)

    and this line from your review ” Again, I know this type of alpha hero is very much the product of the times, and in this sense Colt falls in line with the dukes, rakes, pirates, and other macho, macho men” is exactly what drew me to her books at that time (and is likely why a dominant alpha male is still my favourite kind of book boyfriend).

  31. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 15:10:47

    @batgrl: Yes, I also go into Critique Mode with novels like these; it’s a shame, because as I said the love story itself is terrific, as is the adventure subplot.

  32. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 15:16:43

    @Christine E: Oh, mine too! I love those alpha men; I went through much of Feehan’s Carpathian series before I realized I couldn’t tell one powerful dude from the next and the series story arc jumped the shark for me.

  33. Sandy D.
    May 02, 2014 @ 15:19:40

    If you google “Noble Savage” and “Ecological Indian” you will find some interesting academic literature on these themes. I don’t think anyone has definitively combined these ideas with the “exotic other” in romance novels, though – sounds like a good research project!

  34. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 15:53:57

    @batgrl: That’s one of the biggest problems with American Indian romance, isn’t it? The fact that these fantasy stereotypes refer to a group of people who are actually around to read and be affected by them, and whose everyday life is quite different from the romanticized ideal. It’s appropriating and distorting someone else’s culture.

    And here I’m referring to historical romances, because it’s what I’ve read. Can anyone suggest contemporary romances with Native American heroes or heroines? Do they follow the same stereotyping?

  35. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 15:55:39

    @Sandy D.: Depends… would I have to read the entire Cassie Edwards oeuvre for research? I’m not sure I could do that and “retain…my…sanity!” (as Ms Edwards would put it).

  36. Sirius
    May 02, 2014 @ 16:14:33

    @Fallen Professor: This was one of my first books by Johanna Lindsey. I left her behind in my early romance reading years before I took a long break (I still read Amanda Quick though – the only one left).

    Re: contemporary romances with Native American Heroes. I cannot suggest any m/f romances, but I can suggest “Gives Light” series by Rose Christo, which is contemporary YA gay romance. It is very innocent – so even if you do not read m/m at all, I would suggest trying it anyway. The author is Native American (I believe she is Cree), so I do not think she is stereotyping her own culture (I cannot and would not know either way). I just know that I loved it a lot. I believe you can borrow it for free from Amazon lending library if you are Prime member and if you have kindle. The first book is called “Gives Light”, it is pretty self contained, so you can easily stop and not go further after first book.

  37. Jill Sorenson
    May 02, 2014 @ 16:18:51

    @Fallen Professor: I just bought Nobody by Sarah M. Anderson. I have no idea if it’s stereotyped but it’s contemporary and only 99 cents. I share an editor with this author and follow her on twitter.
    http://www.amazon.com/Nobody-White-Sandy-Sarah-Anderson-ebook/dp/B00IVWE5X2/ref=la_B005FTCSHE_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1399064647&sr=1-9

    I wrote a romance with a NA hero, Set the Dark on Fire. It was reviewed here by Jane: http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/review-set-the-dark-on-fire-by-jill-sorenson/

    I wish I could think of other recs. I’ve read Linda Howard’s Mackenzie’s Mountain and Sandra Brown’s Honor Bound years ago, and enjoyed them, but those are older titles. The Brown I remember as very problematic with a jerky, angry hero.

  38. Robin/Janet
    May 02, 2014 @ 16:19:26

    @Fallen Professor and @batgrl: But you’re not suggesting that it’s okay to “appropriate and distort” the history of a group that’s not technically here anymore, right? One big problem with that kind of distortion is that there aren’t living members of the group here to refute some of the worst claims. But also, I think we need to be looking at the fundamental ideologies that drive this kind of distortion, and those are often built on historical narratives about groups who are not technically here and in tact in the same way they were.

    In fact, that’s one of the biggest arguments around the perpetuation of stereotypes around Native Americans. How many people know that when the Iroquois Confederacy was at its height, for example, those nations comprised an immensely complex organization — some claim the US government was based on their political organization — that were economically and politically powerful to the point where they were able to play France and England off against each other and maintain power over them. But that isn’t the image we often see of Native Americans, even from those who don’t want to perpetuate the negative stereotypes, in part because centuries of disenfranchisement have largely transformed the political, economic, and geographic status of the indigenous nations.

  39. Carolyn Jewel
    May 02, 2014 @ 16:24:03

    I thought my comment had been lost to the capcha!

    I’d also like to mention the series of essays “Me So Sexy” about the representation of Native Americans in literature, all by NA authors.

    I have heard people say, “but I didn’t read that book as racist” by which they mean, they were blind to the racism. Often you’ll hear readers say they came away with good feelings about the character who is not white (or straight or what have you) and so they can’t be racist — and that may even be true– they are not overtly -ist. The first couple of times, you can’t fault a person for not seeing past issues of privilege — we are not teaching readers/possessors of privilege to see it. But once it’s brought up and laid out for us, we should all be questioning our views.

    It’s hard. It’s even paralyzing at times. But it’s also important that we do so, because we can be aware of our privilege in one area and blind to it in others.

  40. Sirius
    May 02, 2014 @ 16:25:04

    Oh also I just want to say that I have read a whole bunch of books by Rose Christo and can happily recommend any of them. Note, not all of them are romances and a lot of them have a whole lot of anger and pain over what was done to her people over the centuries – but I loved these books. “The place where they cried” was another amazing one IMO – but note that this is NOT a Romance, I cannot stress it enough, and heed the warning in the tittle, this is historical novel. Very very touching read though with one of the greatest love stories ever IMO. She also writes f/f stories, just general stories and couple of m/f now that I can remember and not only about Native Americans. Shutting up now :).

  41. Laura Vivanco
    May 02, 2014 @ 16:48:58

    @Carolyn Jewel:

    Often you’ll hear readers say they came away with good feelings about the character who is not white (or straight or what have you) and so they can’t be racist — and that may even be true– they are not overtly -ist.

    I was sure there was a name for this kind of thing but I couldn’t remember so I had a look and it’s “benevolent prejudice.” According to Stonewall UK some people use

    positive or benevolent stereotypes to talk about lesbians and gay men as fun. They used caring stereotypes of disabled people, branding them as vulnerable and in need of protection. These
    stereotypes are not intended to demonstrate a less positive attitude towards these groups, but lesbians, gay men or disabled people can experience these views as negative and discriminatory. This benevolent prejudice demonstrates a lack of understanding of what being disabled or lesbian and gay can mean; a lack of awareness of the more serious discrimination that these groups often experience; and the changing expectations and rights of these minority groups.

    Other research has suggested that these benevolent attitudes can play an important role in the social exclusion of particular groups, for example because labels like ‘nice’, ‘kind’ and ‘helpless’ can define some minority groups as not competent or suitable for powerful positions.

  42. Jill Sorenson
    May 02, 2014 @ 16:50:09

    Oh! I’ve also heard good things about Pamela Clare’s Naked Edge.

    While I’m thinking about it, I found it very interesting to read a positive depiction of NA romance in Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary. The main character’s sister, who is Indian, reads and enjoys NA romance. I’m not sure how to interpret her enjoyment but I kind of loved that Alexie put it in there without judging the genre or the subject matter. It’s a wonderful book, too. Best book I’ve read in years.

    As far as not seeing racism in NA romances, I totally understand how this happens. When I read Sandra Brown’s Honor Bound and Hawk O’Toole’s Hostage in my teens or twenties, I saw nothing racist. I probably thought they were inclusive. But both were contemporary captive fantasies that relied on the hero’s ethnicity to Other him–and make him dangerously hot.

  43. Jill Sorenson
    May 02, 2014 @ 16:51:19

    Oh! I’ve also heard good things about Pamela Clare’s Naked Edge.

    While I’m thinking about it, I found it very interesting to read a positive depiction of NA romance in Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary. The main character’s sister reads and enjoys NA romance. I’m not sure how to interpret her enjoyment but I kind of loved that Alexie put it in there without judging the genre or the subject matter. It’s a wonderful book, too. Best book I’ve read in years.

    As far as not seeing racism in NA romances, I totally understand how this happens. When I read Sandra Brown’s Honor Bound and Hawk O’Toole’s Hostage in my teens or twenties, I saw nothing racist about them. I probably thought they were inclusive. But both were contemporary captive fantasies that relied on the hero’s ethnicity to Other him–and make him dangerously hot.

  44. Christine E
    May 02, 2014 @ 16:53:45

    @Sirius: next to my JL books are my Amanda Quick ones – the S’s, The R’s, The D’s and then the next sets – I stopped buying them about 5 years ago, she is very prolific. Also, as a teenager I discovered Stephanie James Silhouette books first, followed by Amanda Quick, then in my mid to late 20’s (and ongoing) Jayne Anne Krentz. Imagine my surprise when I discovered these were all pseudonyms for the same person (!) – which totally explains why I loved her men and her plots :-) And last but not least, next to my JL and AQ’s are my Julie Garwoods and Judith McNaughts.

  45. Kay
    May 02, 2014 @ 17:11:45

    @Jill Sorenson: Oh, I so loved that about Alexie’s book: his sister reading that romance and his matter-of-fact allusion to it. Yes, no judgement. (I once created a fantasy if-I-could-teach-a-romance-novel course outline and I opened with that very excerpt from the TRUE DIARY novel.)

  46. Carolyn Jewel
    May 02, 2014 @ 17:35:26

    @Laura Vivanco:
    Thank you for that reference.

  47. Maureen
    May 02, 2014 @ 17:46:15

    Oh my goodness! I havent read this book in sooo long. Definitely need to do a reread asap. Thanks so much for this review. JL was my favorite author during my teens. I have to agree with other commenters – Angel is great! Probably need to reread that one too. Getting my old paperbacks out now…..

  48. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 18:06:09

    @Robin/Janet: Nope, not okay at all to do this to cultures that are no longer here either. I wanted to simply point out that it takes a certain type of naivete/ignorance/what-have-you for an author to write about a culture that is (1) not their own, and one they have no ties with (unlike, say, having Scottish ancestry, although Highlander novels are whole ‘nother ball of wax); BUT that nevertheless 2) is part of their present-day society, and thus around to call them out on any blatant stereotyping. Writing silly, false things about the Roman Empire might not be the best approach to novel-writing, but I don’t think it’s going to affect their historical achievements. However, writing all modern-day Italians out to be mafiosi or pizza-parlor owners does have an impact on their communities, if that’s the only way they read about themselves through the eyes of outsiders.

    Which is not to say that authors need to segregate themselves and only write about their own race. But, as you point out so well, there are many details about the First Nations, for example, that most people never know, or bother to research and incorporate into their writing. It’s always the mystic, the nature-lover, the warrior, the “savage”, etc. etc. etc.

  49. Fallen Professor
    May 02, 2014 @ 18:09:10

    I’d like to extend a general thank-you, before I forget, to all the lovely commenters here! Thank you for a stimulating discussion on race and NA romance, and for your book recommendations. I’ve been keeping a list of books suggested here.

  50. Geri
    May 02, 2014 @ 20:39:59

    Kathleen Eagle writes contemporary NA romances that have always felt very accurate. I believe her husband is Native American.

  51. Jayne
    May 03, 2014 @ 08:47:44

    @Geri: Yes, her husband is Lakota and I’ve enjoyed lots of her contemporaries and historicals.

  52. Kaetrin
    May 04, 2014 @ 06:34:06

    @Jill Sorenson – Naked Edge by Pamela Clare is great. The heroine is half Navajo. Her culture and beliefs are deeply woven into the sorry. I’m no expert but it seemed to me to be a book where Native American culture was accorded great respect.

  53. Vanessa Alban
    Jun 27, 2014 @ 21:03:50

    Similar to your experience, this was the first romance novel I ever read, 20 yrs ago as a teen. And I never forgot the name Colt Thunder. Out of the clear blue sky I bought a copy and literally couldn’t put it down, promptly re-read cover to cover and still read portions of it every day. I actually think I am in love w Colt!
    The violence and non PC phrases didn’t bother me in the slightest. ( And I am a mixed-race woman from the South) Southerners say things they way they are, no need to sugar coat. Its a historical novel and they are historically accurate. So for me its refreshing to read a book that isn’t afraid to say things plainly.
    Colt was clearly the best, most honorable, caring, true, strong, dependable character in the book – non of the authors descriptive words took away from that.

  54. Vanessa Alban
    Jun 27, 2014 @ 21:05:39

    Similar to your experience, this was the first romance novel I ever read, 20 yrs ago as a teen. And I never forgot the name Colt Thunder. Recently, out of the clear blue sky I bought a copy and literally couldn’t put it down, promptly re-read cover to cover and still read portions of it every day. I actually think I am in love w Colt!
    The violence and not-PC phrases didn’t bother me in the slightest. ( And I am a mixed-race woman from the South) Southerners say things they way they are, no need to sugar coat. Its a historical novel and they are historically accurate. So for me its refreshing to read a book that isn’t afraid to say things plainly.
    Colt was clearly the best, most honorable, caring, true, strong, dependable character in the book – none of the authors descriptive words took away from that.

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