White Flame

White Nights by Susan Edwards
(Leisure, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4703-9
Eirica Macauley, the mother of three young children, eight-months pregnant with her fourth, and supposedly recently widowed (in the prologue, readers learn that her husband Birk is not dead and is vowing vengeance), is continuing on a wagon train’s cross-country trek to Oregon. Although relieved to be free of her dishonest, abusive husband, she finds the day-to-day routine to be nearly more than she can handle.

James Jones, another member of the wagon train, has been attracted to Eirica and is forthright in his intentions -- he is eager to provide her with needed assistance and eventually to marry her. Eirica, however, is fearful of being in another man’s power and determined to retain her independence. Will James’s love win past her defenses?

White Nights is the fourth in Susan Edwards’ “White” series, and the book is overpopulated with characters from previous books and crammed with capsule summaries of their individual stories. I enjoy sequels but believe that each installment should be able to stand on its own. White Nights teeters precariously from the weight of all those earlier characters.

The story begins slowly as each character -- both major and minor ... even the dog! -- is introduced with his or her personal history. Westward movement of wagon trains was a slow, tedious process -- the pacing of White Nights parallels that progress. Picking up the book for yet another chapter has the same plodding feel as setting out for yet another day of trudging across the plains. More characters to meet, more daily tasks to accomplish, more I-don’t-care-if-I’m-pregnant-I-wanna-do-it-myself to express.

With so little happening, the main focus of the story is on character rather than on plot with pages and pages devoted to the thoughts of the various characters. I didn’t find any one character very sympathetic or appealing, and Eirica is particularly unrealistic and annoying. Sure, it’s completely understandable how she’d be glad her disgusting first husband is no longer around, but her insistence on retaining her independence is simply too modern an attitude to be believable for a story set in 1856. "She had to do this for herself, her own growth as an emerging woman." Besides, James is clearly one of those way-too-perfect heroes. Caring, gentle, responsible, generous, dependable, brave, knock-‘em-dead handsome, and good with her children to boot. Eirica can’t even manage her team of oxen on the trail yet she’d rather homestead alone, clear the land, construct a dwelling, till the soil, plant the crops, care for the kiddies, and do it all herself. Good luck, lady.

On a more technical point, readers may find the specifics of Eirica’s and James’s first sexual encounter a little improbable. She’s nine-months pregnant, pooped from the physical demands of handling young children, doing the chores, and walking through rough country all day, and yet she’s got the energy -- not to mention the interest -- to engage in marathon sex. Now that’s hardy pioneer stock!

I found little to enjoy in White Nights. The plot is thin and slow moving, and the characters are dull and unappealing. The main topic of interest is when is Birk going to show up again and make trouble.

Those readers who have been journeying along with the White series from the beginning may wish to catch up with the various characters in this most recent installment. But I advise those who are new to the series to look for the earlier books first.

--Lesley Dunlap

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