White Eagle's Touch by Karen Kay
(Avon, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-380-78999-X
***
White Eagle's Touch is a definitive study of some of the Blackfoot Tribes that inhabited the Montana portion of the Northwest Territory in the 1830's. Their customs, traditions, and the interaction among different bands form the backbone of this story. The central core of White Eagle's Touch is the love story between a young lady from New York and a Pikuni warrior.

The story opens in a law office in New York City where 19-year-old Katrina Wellington had been informed that her money is exhausted. Worse news is that in order to claim the inheritance which will finance her dowry; she and her fiancÚ must travel to Fort Union in the Northwest Territory to secure her uncle's approval of her fiancÚ. Since her uncle controls the purse strings, Katrina has no choice but to comply.

Katrina blames the Northwest Territory for the death of her parents who were killed in a flash flood, and she bitterly blames her uncle for sending her east to grow up alone in the care of servants. Her betrothal to Lord Leicester is a match of convenience made at the bank. She is exchanging her inheritance and dowry for his title. It is fortunate that Katrina does not believe in the concept of love since it is so clearly lacking in this arrangement.

Lord Leicester also needs money badly enough to make the trip. Surrounded by his entourage of hounds and servants, if he were not such an oaf he would have brought comic relief to this book. Katrina on the other hand is willful, spoiled, untamed, pampered and yet na´ve. An unkind person might readily conclude that they deserve each other as they tediously make their way westward.

Meanwhile, back in the Territory, Katrina's uncle has made arrangements for White Eagle to meet the party and escort them further westward. The canny uncle is a fur trader and believes Lord Leicester won't last the journey. He has chosen White Eagle because he is a friend and because White Eagle and Katrina had been close as children.

The westbound party makes it way by ship, and while waiting to disembark, Katrina observes White Eagle. She is stunned at her own reaction to this "beautiful male," but quickly resumes her role as a shrew. Outraged that her uncle has not met her, Katrina makes an effort to find other ways to travel, but finally has to accept White Eagle as her guide.

The attraction between Katrina and White Eagle soon becomes heated, and she changes from a dragon to a very compliant "sits beside him woman" in the Indian tradition. Of course there remain a few details to work out -- like her betrothal, and the impossibility of a life style she doesn't feel she can embrace.

White Eagle's Touch is steeped in Indian culture, and the main characters finely drawn. Unfortunately, little attention is paid to the secondary characters. But what troubled me the most was what seemed like a sudden metamorphosis of Katrina from spoiled shrew to loving tigress. The idea that love alone can bring about this kind of transformation in such a short time was not convincing. But if you are interested in this period in Native American history, you might find this a compelling read..

--Thea Davis


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