Priscilla Twiss went west in the summer of 1871 to help her Indian agent father with his quest to "civilize" the Indians. What she found was a beautiful culture that enthralled her, and a handsome young Indian named Whirlwind Rider. Priscilla and Whirlwind Rider were immediately attracted to one another and formed a deep friendship as they taught each other their respective languages, but it seemed that nothing more between the pair was meant to be. Their cultural differences kept them at arms length, and eventually, Priscilla's desire to go to college and become a teacher led her back east again. Still, she could not deny the call of her heart to be among the Native American people, and when her education was completed, she knew that she belonged with them, teaching their children. She returned once again to her father's agency, this time for good, but would Whirlwind Rider even remember her, much less still want something more than to just be friends?
In 1971, Cecily Metcalf bought an old steamer trunk on a whim at an antiques auction. Although she didn't find much within it's contents, she couldn't help feeling a deep connection with the woman from the past who had owned it. That same summer, Cecily headed for the Sioux Indian reservation in South Dakota to work on a project, and that is where she met the enigmatic Kiah Red Thunder who was home on a brief leave from his tour of duty in Vietnam. For the next ten days, they find an unforgettable passion in each others arms, but the war and Cecily's ambition to attend college to become a journalist keep them from becoming anything more than memorable lovers. Much like Priscilla though, Cecily can't help but keep coming back to the reservation, and years later on her last trip, she takes along a newly found possession of the woman who owned the trunk which could change hers and Kiah's lives forever and finally prove that they are truly meant for one another.
Fire and Rain is one of those books that has sat on my TBR list for a couple of years, and I never seemed to get around to reading it. Now that I finally have, I'm kicking myself and wondering why I didn't pick it up sooner. This is the type of book that should be handed to naysayers who think that romance is nothing more than light fluff, because if a wonderful story like this can't change their minds, nothing ever will. Fire and Rain is loaded with Native American history and culture that was a feast for my intellect. I can't even begin to explain how much I learned from this book, and how it has made me think about what has happened to Native Americans over the centuries in an even deeper way than I had before.
Fire and Rain alternates between the 1870's and 1970's as it details the brutal realities of many things that the Indian peoples have had to endure both in recent and more distant history. The 1870's part of the book covers events in the years leading up to the Battle of the Little Big Horn and much later, the massacre at Wounded Knee and includes some real-life Native Americans, such as Crazy Horse and Red Cloud, as characters. I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like to make an agreement with the U.S. government, only to have those promises broken over and over and then have their land stolen. Some of the Native Americans tried to make peace with the white man and learn a new way of life, but it was completely understandable that they would revert to the old ways to provide for their children when the government would not. This part also showed what life was like for an Indian agent and what they hoped to accomplish. The 1970's part detailed what it was like for Native Americans in a more modern world, but the harsh prejudices they still faced even after a century. Perhaps it's because I'm too young to remember or perhaps it's because the Indian Civil Rights Movement didn't get as much media attention, but I never realized they went through some of the same things that African Americans faced in the search for racial equality. Just thinking about it all brings tears to my eyes while also making me angry. The latter part of the narrative covers the Supreme Court's ruling to award $106 million dollars to the Sioux in compensation for the Black Hills being taken from them, but as far as I know, the money still to this day, has not been accepted by them, and I fully understand why. I love a book that can make me think and learn and grow, and Fire and Rain is just such a book. Before I had even finished it, I was starting to do my own research on the events depicted in the story, which has only served to educate me further.
In addition to the amazing historical and cultural perspectives this book imparts, Fire and Rain also follows not one but two couples, one in each century, whose lives mirror one another and intersect in unexpected ways. The two stories are seamlessly woven together, alternating back and forth between the two sets of heroes and heroines, until the last quarter or so of the book when Kiah and Cecily, the 1970's couple, discover their surprising connection to Whirlwind Rider and Priscilla, the 1870's couple. At that point, Kiah and Cecily can't stop until the mystery of what happened to Whirlwind Rider and Priscilla all those years ago is solved, and as everything comes full-circle, it brings them inspiration in their own relationship. In both cases, it takes years for the couple's romances to fully develop and for each hero and heroine to realize that they are totally meant for each other. Normally this isn't a theme that I tend to like very well, but in this case, it somehow just fit the story and made sense to me. Both couples faced racial and cultural differences that had to be bridged within their own relationship and the likelihood of prejudice from outsiders that could lead to danger, especially for Whirlwind Rider and Priscilla. Even though the road to happiness for the couples was tinged with the bittersweet, it made their eventual HEAs even better, because it showed their love never died and was worth fighting for. Through all the doubts and uncertainties of life, it was each other that they kept coming back to, and in the end, they simply couldn't fight fate anymore.
Whirlwind Rider and Priscilla became friends when Priscilla came to help her father, an Indian agent, for the summer. There is an immediate and undeniable attraction between them as they teach each other their respective languages. Whirlwind Rider is a man who is proud of his heritage and doesn't think that the Indians should simply loaf around the agency waiting for provisions, especially as they come less and less frequently. He is a man of action and deeply spiritual. I liked that he understood that not all whites wanted to do his people harm, but at the same time, he was also a Tokala, a warrior both of his people and in his heart, and needs to provide for his tribe. He comes to love Priscilla very much, but isn't sure that she could be happy as the wife of a Lakota. Priscilla is a woman who is fascinated by Indian history and culture, kind of an anthropologist of a sort. She also has a burning desire to educate herself and as such, she initially can't fathom not going back to school. Eventually, after she has gone to college, she realizes her calling is to be a teacher to the Sioux which brings her back home again and into Whirlwind Rider's arms for good. I loved that Priscilla was a white woman who thought that the Native American culture was absolutely beautiful, and she was incredibly strong to have stood steadfastly by her husband right up until the very end. Theirs was not an easy life, but their love for each other gave them strength to see them through the hardships.
Cecily and Kiah are very similar to their historical counterparts. Much like Priscilla, Cecily is fascinated with the Native American culture and is very much an idealistic romantic, who also loves school and wants desperately to be a top-notch journalist. She volunteers to work at a mission on the reservation during a summer break from college where she meets the enigmatic Kiah who is a soldier in the Army on a brief leave from Vietnam (another very unique aspect of the story, as I've never read a romance that takes place in that era). Kiah is a smooth-talking charmer (and a good "dirty" talker too who's always full of innuendos), albeit a little too cocky for my taste initially. It doesn't take long for Cecily to fall for him, and as the story progresses, Kiah does soften up a little without loosing his edginess. They share what they both think will be a youthful fling that ends up being much more than either expected. Just like Whirlwind Rider, Kiah is a warrior at heart, but when he returns from Vietnam, not surprisingly, he feels all "used up." He has to deal with the demons of PTSD, having been on the "loosing" side, and the prejudices of those who were against the war. Then an unexpected tragedy makes him even more bitter and withdrawn. He loves Cecily very much, but just can't bring himself to express it and feels like he has nothing left inside to give her. Kiah was never quite the gentleman that Whirlwind Rider was, but one thing I loved about him was that no matter how much pain he was in, he always treated Cecily with kindness and respect and was a tender lover to her. Cecily was a strong woman to be able to love Kiah on his terms, giving him whatever he was able to accept at the time and just being there for him when he needed her. His seeming indifference hurt her deeply, but she was never given to recrimination or jealousy. She let him go when she had to, and when they reunited, they were all the stronger for having had the time to grow and mature while they were apart. During those times, they always carried their memories of each other with them wherever they went.
Fire and Rain turned out to be one of those hidden gems that I don't hear much about in romance reading circles. Anyone looking for one of those light, fluffy tales should definitely look elsewhere, but anyone who loves history or Native American culture, and is open-minded and enjoys learning new things, should definitely appreciate Fire and Rain. It even has some great spiritual and philosophical messages to be gleaned from it's pages, and everything combined will probably have me thinking about the book and what I learned from it for a long time to come. The author has also included a glossary of Lakota terms and some recommended non-fiction reading in her notes at the end of the book which I will definitely be checking out. Fire and Rain was my first read by Kathleen Eagle, but it certainly won't be my last. I borrowed it from the library, but will be on the look-out for a copy to place on my keeper shelf and will eagerly be looking forward to seeing what else this talented author has to offer.
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