Black Otter is a Lenape warrior chief who has been captured by the White Man after they kill his wife. He vows to return to his land, find his children and regain his life. This won’t be too easy, however, because an unconventional scientist who wishes to study a “savage” has transported him to England.
Rowena Thornhill is the spinster daughter of that scientist. Though she is appalled by her father’s deed, the noble wild man intrigues her. Rowena convinces her father that she is the only one who “John Savage” can trust and attempts to understand him. When her father suddenly takes ill, she must help Black Otter better fit into English society so he is not discovered and taken away.
At first glance, one might think this story is a Western, or at least set in the Western time period, but it’s actually set in the 16th century. That in itself is an interesting twist, as is the fact that native people were often brought to England as amusements. Unfortunately, the innovative storyline is never really brought to life.
The characters are flat and basic. Black Otter is a typical noble savage, and he never generates any real charisma. He mostly walks around all noble and stoic, wavering between hatred of all white people, to attraction to the gentle Rowena. Though a reader can feel compassion for his plight, it’s never genuine camaraderie. One cares, but then again, not really. Still, at least he has his convictions.
Though she’s a grown woman, nearly thirty, Rowena still can’t stand up to her father. She’s disgusted by the treatment Black Otter receives and demands he have better accommodations. Daddy says no, and Rowena obeys, settling for sneaking Black Otter a blanket and a loaf of bread when no one’s looking. For someone who is responsible for holding the household together all these years, this is pretty weak. Rowena’s father, a Disney style eccentric father who raised a child alone, has never given any indication that he’d punish her cruelly. Not to mention he’s aging and sickly, one wonders why Rowena didn’t just lay down the law.
There is little chemistry between the two characters. They both spend too much time inside their own heads to make sparks fly. The fact that they can’t communicate with each other effectively for two thirds of the book also puts a damper on the relationship. After a while, I just wasn’t interested in them anymore, they were a dull couple.
Despite this, there are some moments of inspiration. Black Otter’s trip to England is written in such sensory detail that a reader is almost transported into the bowels of the ship alongside him. Also, Black Otter’s relationship with the horses was touching without being cliché. These few moments are not really enough though, especially with an ending that stretches believability to a thin thread. In the end, My Lord Savage is a just another "noble savage" story.