REVIEW: Paloma and the Horse Traders by Carla Kelly
Spoiler (Trigger Warnings): Show
As the eighteenth century draws to a close, the Kwahadi Comanches seem to be making their peace with the settlers of the Spanish Colony of New Mexico. No one is as relieved as Marco Mondragón and his adored wife Paloma Vega, whose ranch, the Double Cross, sits on the edge of Comanchería. Their tranquility is short-lived, however, for other Comanches are terrorizing the plains, led by the ruthless renegade, Great Owl.
At the annual fair in Taos, Marco and his Comanche friend Toshua arrange to buy a team of bays from horse traders who sometimes wink at the law. Marco can’t complete the purchase because he spends all his money to buy a slave from Great Owl, thus saving her life. Graciela accompanies them back to the Double Cross, along with Diego Diaz, one of those traders Marco still owes for the team.
Great Owl’s threat to tentative peace between the Kwahadi and the Spanish must be squelched. Marco and Toshua bolster their small army of two with an unexpected ally in Joaquim Gasca, a disgraced former lieutenant with the Royal Engineers. They are joined by Diego Diaz, who turns out to be a key figure from Paloma’s past. Adding two shady horse traders and the secretive Graciela, Marco leads his small but determined army north to land contested by both Utes and Comanches. Though woefully outnumbered, they must defeat Great Owl or die trying. Book 3 in the Spanish Brand series.
Dear Ms. Kelly,
As soon as this was available for purchase I quickly grabbed it to discover what was up with (by now) favorites Marco and Paloma. The description had me on pins and needles as well, given Paloma’s (horrific) past history with Comanche raiders and the hard won peace they had achieved with a current Comanche leader at the end of the last book. Would it all be for naught? And would Paloma once again have nightmares at the thought of a Comanche Moon?
From the blurb I could tell that Marco is being his usual amazing self in saving the life of another destitute woman, this time from four years as a Comanche slave. The usual treatment suffered by Comanche prisoners is made quite plain without getting into too horrific detail but survivors of abuse and rape might want to skip over some paragraphs. Nothing takes place “on page” but the memories of survivors as they recount past events is harrowing.
Not all Comanches and Indians are presented as nothing but evil, though. Toshua – saved by Paloma in the first book – and his wife Eckapeta – with whom he was reunited in the second book – think of Marco and Paloma as their little brother and sister and are devoted to their safety and that of the Mondragón children. The Cloud Utes are positively portrayed as well. However woe betide anyone who threatens the Mondragons as Toshua and Eckapeta will seek revenge as do the Utes who suffer at the hands of the renegades. More violence warnings.
Yes, Marco and Paloma’s fondest wish has been answered but given the slightly ribald nickname the Comanche women gave Marco in the last book and the zest and joy with which Marco and Paloma enjoy the marriage bed, it’s not surprising. I like that Paloma is presented as maybe not being quite as slender as she used to be due to motherhood and how Marco appreciates it. Women with curves! Paloma is still the strong and determined woman she’s been evolving into but now she has the added responsibility of motherhood. Marco, meanwhile, is once again a father but will probably always be aware of how quickly such joy can be snatched away. Given their perfect, happy marriage, most of their conflicts are now external to their relationship and I do wonder if future books will continue using only outside issues to fuel the plot.
I wasn’t expecting the major revelation of the book but was delighted when it occurred. It all makes sense given past events and I can easily see how it could transpire. Diego is an interesting character and an example of how not all your characters are unflappable in the face of past tragedies and full of serene happiness. He is as haunted by his past, and some morally questionable things he did, as is the former Comanche slave Graciela. They must move through the stages of grief, anger, guilt, weakness and rebirth. They begin to live up to the expectations Paloma has for them and attempt to regain their feeling of self worth.
Bit by bit, the plan of the renegade Great Owl is pieced together by those determined to see him vanquished and peace maintained so near the Comancheria. But even knowing what he’s up to, will our small, ragtag band be able to stop him? It’s a hard fought thing with the outcome teetering in the balance despite other allies and the best efforts of all. But in the end, two people begin to make plans for the future for the first time in years, Marco gains some valuable neighbors and new employees, the tiny military outpost, which up til now has been mostly useless, might just be turned into a spit and polished enterprise, Marco discovers it’s not for a distant King for whom he’s fighting so hard for peace in this land and just maybe Paloma will finally get her red shoes. B-