REVIEW: An Uncommon Enemy by Michelle Black
Dear Ms Black,
One thing that has always bothered me about reading Westerns in which Indians and Whites come into conflict is that usually the white heroine gets captured by the noble Indian hero, falls in love after being humiliated by him numerous times, completely accepts the Indian culture and lifestyle while repudiating her white heritage then has some final showdown with Evil Whites after which she and her noble hero ride off into the sunset. And I just can’t buy it. Because I don’t think someone raised their whole life one way can all of a sudden change. Because usually these books come off as more Stockholm Syndrome than true love. Because generally one side is portrayed as Pure and Wonderful while the other is nothing but Evil and Loathsomeness. And because these authors usually don’t acknowledge that the life of the Plains tribes was on the way out and that the future for most of these couples was probably life on the run or on a Reservation. Thank you for not writing one of those books. Instead we get a realistic portrayal of a captive white woman’s return to white civilization and the mess that was Indian Affairs in mid 19th century America (settlers’ and soldiers’ view that only good Indian was a dead Indian vs Eastern establishment view of Noble Red man.)
You don’t pull any punches during the early scenes when Boy Hero George Armstrong Custer and his troops swoop down upon Chief Black Kettle’s sleeping Cheyenne village and proceed to basically massacre just about everyone in it. Seota would have been among them except for the fact that two soldiers heard her damn them to hell for what they were doing and called over their young captain. Bradley Randall is shocked into inaction when he hears Seota and sees her chestnut colored hair. At least he was until she knees him in the balls and tries to escape. This turns out to be only the beginning of the trouble she’ll cause him on the trip back to Reliance, KS.
Eden Murdoch bitterly regrets giving her real name to Randall. It might allow him to find her beloved Army father but too late she realizes her abusive white husband might also see the newspaper reports of her “rescue” during the raid on the Cheyenne camp. The other captured Cheyenne women have shown her that they no longer trust her while the white soldiers’ taunts and leers prove to be a preview of what’s in store for her from whites. Custer is at first delighted to be provided with a retroactive reason for his men’s brutal actions then pissed at Eden for not falling at his feet in gratitude.
Randall can’t understand Eden at all. To him, her horrific healed scars prove that the Indians didn’t treat her well yet she refuses to denounce them en masse and gets furious at any attempt by the Army to use her as justification for their campaign. Furthermore, he’s feeling more and more unsure of continuing in the Army and beginning to hate the fact that his high ranking future father-in-law got him this post in the first place. And despite his letters to his fiancee Amanda outlining all the hardships and deprivation he’s enduring, all he gets in reply are endless pages of fussing over which napkin rings to use at their wedding reception and how hard she’s had to look in every drapery shop in Washington for just the right lace. As Randall sees the opportunities in a wide open West and watches Eden stand up for herself and face down her enemies, he wonders if he’s made the right decision in a wife and career.
As I mentioned above, I think you’ve given us what is probably a far more realistic version of the “white woman captured by Indians” plot than most romance authors dish up. It’s not pretty but then the reality probably wasn’t either. Thank you for not turning Eden’s treatment at the hands of the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers who captured her into a titillating depiction of rape. Though we never actually see it, you convey what happened to her in a manner that tells us the horror she endured and her strength in living through it. It also shows what a remarkable woman Eden is to not condemn a whole culture for the actions of a few. I appreciated the fact that you showed how life among the Cheyennes changed Eden. Before, she was a typical woman of her culture whose only rebellion was to sign up as a nurse during the Civil War and to marry a man of whom her father disapproved. After living among the Indians for four years, Eden was ready to threaten to castrate a soldier with her teeth when he made lewd remarks to her, strip to the waist in public to make her point and hurl a paperweight at a townsperson for trying to attack her. All things she never would have done as a proper Eastern woman in the 1860s. And yet you don’t have her get that way overnight as shown by her remembered moments of despair while with Indians.
Bradley Randall was maybe not quite as interesting as Eden. He had to play the role of the honorable white in the book as a counterweight to the less upstanding members of the US Army. And yet you give us an interesting take on Randall’s marital outcome. I spent the entire book expecting one or two things to happen at end that didn’t. It’s always a nice change when typical “romance” expectations get turned on their heads. I did laugh at the whore charging Brad twice the going rate. And it is through Brad that we get to see the two sidedness of Custer – that seen by his adoring public and the side seen by Indians and his subordinates. His final demand of Eden was despicable but as he was reminded eight years later, “There is no word in the Cheyenne language for forgiveness.” I also liked the character of Hugh Christie the saloon owner who showed the freewheeling possibilities of the West and that not all men viewed Eden with disgust.
I do have some niggles though. What Eden does to Brad is slightly underhanded when she never tells him about what happened when he was feverish. And the end of book sort of descends into a melodrama that doesn’t match the style of the rest of the story. Also, and I don’t blame you for this but it did subtract from the enjoyment of reading the book, there were major problems with the text throughout the book – lots of dropped or partial words and then there was the word fact that the term “Mrs” was somehow replaced with the word “Custer” for the entire book. So we have Eden referred to as “Custer” Murdoch by every white man and at the very end, when Custer’s own wife makes an appearance, “Custer” Custer. I can’t tell you how annoying this was. Considering what I paid Fictionwise for the book, I expect better.
For readers looking for an honest telling of the horrific things done by both sides during Indian Wars, this is a great book. The slow build up to Eden’s revelations about her captivity kept me riveted and I found it interesting to note that she found respect first with Hanging Road, her Cheyenne husband, then love. He takes time with her and she’s the one who finally initiates sexual contact which makes sense when you think of what she went through. I spent a lot of time pondering just who was the “uncommon enemy” and finally decided for myself that it’s probably Eden though she must have viewed Randall that way at times. Thanks for a fascinating “what if” story. B