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 Despite occasional compelling scenes based on events drawn from actual diaries of women emigrants, Lee's (Cannon's Revenge, 1995) latest ought to be subtitled ``The Perils of a Politically Correct Heroine Crossing the Continent.'' Even the villain is a second-rate stereotype in this exaggerated melodrama posing as historical fiction. Pregnant, her lover dead, and pressured by her wealthy Philadelphia family to marry, a heroine with the unlikely name of America weds Will Hollis, a young lawyer bent on emigrating west. Hollis is less a character than an explanation for America's presence on the wagon train. In fact, her friendship with Catherine Welborne, a mail-order bride traveling to Oregon, is more believable than her marriage, and her indignation at Isaac Moore's beating his wife seems more deeply felt that her affection for Hollis. In an orgy of heroine-like acts, America champions Indian rights and the abolition of slavery, decries domestic violence, saves the life of Celeste Hayes when her long skirts catch fire, and buries Hollis after he is accidentally killed. Meanwhile, inept the villains, Reverend Tarleton Sandford and his wife, Muriel, are as devoid of virtue as America is of fault and even less believable. Their one successful act of villainy--the burial of America when she lapses into unconsciousness after childbirth, and the theft of her baby--lacks credibility. Not that credible is a prerequisite, as Lee demonstrates in the climax here when America, rescued from her premature grave by the Paiute Indians, steals back her daughter from the Sandfords and rides off to marry the half- Shoshone Black Wolf after first single-handedly rescuing him from hanging. Improbable plot, poor characterization, and stilted dialogue keep this from rising even to the level of good melodrama.

Pub Date: June 6th, 1996
ISBN: 0-312-85288-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Forge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1996


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