White Flame by Susan Edwards
(Leisure, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4613-X
It’s 1856 and seventeen-year-old Emma O’Brien and her nine-year-old sister Renny are on a steamboat bound for Fort Pierre in the Nebraska Territory. Emma knows that traveling in wild country is dangerous, but she must reach her father, Colonel Grady O’Brien. After the death of the girls’ mother, Grady immersed himself in the Army life, leaving his sister to care for his children. After his sister’s death, Emma pleads with him to come home, but he refuses.

Determined to prove to her father that they desperately need him, Emma takes Renny and heads west. However, the steamboat runs aground and Emma grows impatient. Captain Derek Sanders agrees to escort Emma and Renny to the Fort before their father leaves on yet another assignment. Derek is ambitious, and delivering the Colonel’s daughters to him is part of an elaborate plan to achieve wealth and power.

Due to Derek’s evil ways, the party is attacked by Arikara Indians, and Emma and Renny are taken hostage. Emma fights her captors to the point of exhaustion, but she is unable to stop them when they trade Renny for fresh horses.

Striking Thunder is a half-white Sioux chief who is tracking the Arikara warriors. The Arikara have been making trouble for the Sioux, and Striking Thunder is looking to take care of the problem. While hot on their trail, he learns of Emma’s abduction. Fearing the wrath of the white soldiers he vows to find the girl and return her to the fort.

After a daring rescue, Striking Thunder learns that the Arikara have been hired by the white soldiers to make trouble for the Sioux. Outraged, he decides to use Emma as bait to seek his revenge.

Is Colonel O’Brien responsible for the Sioux’s troubles? Will he own up to his responsibilities to his daughters? Will Emma manage to escape? Will Renny be found? Will the greedy Captain Sanders be stopped? Will Emma and Striking Thunder overcome their mistrust and find happiness together?

White Flame is so full of conflict and misunderstandings that I could barely keep track. This gives the book a confusing pace with so much going on that it took me a while to get into the story. The white woman captive/virile Indian chief plot is formulaic, however, I was able to get past this once Emma reaches Striking Thunder’s village. It is there that the story really shines.

The secondary characters and atmosphere of the Sioux village heightened my enjoyment of White Flame and really caused me to devour the last two-thirds of the book. Edwards does a wonderful job introducing and developing an interesting array of characters. This is book 3 of the “White” series, so readers can look forward to some of these characters being featured in future installments. I know I look forward to a future book featuring Striking Thunder’s sister, Star Dancer.

While White Flame was a bit formulaic and muddled by the numerous conflicts, it’s an enjoyable read sure to please fans of western romances.

--Wendy Crutcher

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