Ellen O'Connell - Dancing on Coals

Dancing on Coals - Ellen O'Connell

Another book Jill made me read in agreement with our plan.

This time she decided to throw me into a 19th century Wild West. This is a rare story about interracial relationship between an Apache and a white woman. The reason it is rare is that, despite a terribly romantic premise, it is really hard to come up with a feasible happy ending for it. 

I read it while on a Greek island with views like this:

greek rock

So it was quite easy for me to transport myself somewhere in New Mexico. Of course, there was a blue sea on the other side but this is irrelevant to this review. It was 35 degrees in the shade and my brain was half-fried, and that’s probably why I enjoyed this book tremendously and I can’t even think of anything snarky to say, which is strange.

To make this weird couple work O’Connell had to get the characters just right. Katherine Grant might be a white woman but she grew up on ships with her father and five brothers running wild. She was a full on 19th century tomboy. A girl who struggled to find her place in the society as much as Gaetan, the Apache hero of the book. Gaetan grew up on a Christian mission where he went to school and was exposed to the ways of the white people. Even though he now resents (and that would be an understatement) the whites (if he didn’t, there would be no story), the cultural damage has been done. He is now stuck between the two worlds, not fully accepted in either. 

And this is why these two can realistically fall in love, even though their strong personalities mean it would take them about 200 pages to do so. Gaetan being a sullen Apache doesn’t speak much, I think he doesn’t even say a word to Katherine until somewhere halfway through the book, so there is a lot of shooting, stealing, fleeing, chasing, etc. to feel out the pages and get our hearts racing.

I guess, what I liked about the book was that the heroine didn’t need rescuing every second page, which seems to be a leitmotif of many western romances and also that both Katherine and Gaetan stayed true to their characters even AFTER they fell in love. I especially liked that bit when Gaeten acts out late on in the book and wants to show everyone his ownership of Katherine. It was a very authentic scene that showed that even when in love we are who we are. 

There was one episode that made me chuckle, because it was rather unrealistic but very much needed to make Gaetan familiar with the white men’s ways of making love. After all who the hell would want to read a romance with no kissing and no foreplay? So ha, ha, Ellen, I see what you did there.

Then of course, there was the ending. A romance book needs a happy ending but there just were any happy endings in store for Apaches, so O'Connell had to pile up some lucky coincidences to pull the whole thing off.

All in all, a very strong effort for a self published book. There were no spelling mistakes, no atrociously bad writing and it was historically authentic (although I have little experience in being a 19th century Native American, so don’t take my word for it). The only thing that gives it away as a self-published novel is that god awful clipart cover. One day, when I’m free, I will draw something prettier for it.