by Stobie Piel, historical (2002)
Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-4964-3
The Renegade's Heart is the sequel to Stobie Piel's 2001 book Renegade.
A bit of a back story: once upon a time there lived two de Aguirre brothers, Rafael and Diego. Since the author wants to write two books out of this premise, Rafael grows up to be the Responsible One, while Diego, well, he's the Slut. In Renegade, the boys have grown up to be manly men in New Mexico Territory, where the people are a hotpodge of Chinese, Spanish, Tewa Indians, and everything in-between. But these people are very stupid, so when Bad People come sweeping to exploit these people, they are helpless and defenceless.
Rafe starts wearing a black half-mask and black robes, and with his trusty horse, he becomes Zorro! Oops, I mean, Renegade! The Renegade freed the stupid but happy people from their tormentors in Renegade, got a wife to boot, and now he and wifey are away in some overseas trip.
So here begins The Renegade's Heart. Oh no! Some baddie comes up and announces that Rafael, who is AWOL, has sold him the lands! Now Baddie will exploit the dim-witted happy peasants once more! Who shall don the Renegade's mask? Who, who? Er... Diego?
Yes, Diego! But can a lame, drunkard he-whore turn himself into a hero in time?
Can our heroine, Melanie Ann Muessen, who happens to be in town taking pretty photographs, find true love with a drunkard male slut?
What happened to Rafael and his wife and their kids anyway?
And how come the people in this place, of so different ethnicities, communicate so well with each other in perfect English anyway? Not that I am advocating having characters speak in ghetto language, but really, the people here are amazingly eloquent in the Queen's English.
I really want to like The Renegade's Heart, if only for its multiracial cast (even if they are seem to act and speak alike, come to think of it) and the secondary romance between two Chinese hotel owners (look, ma, no Chinese people doing the laundry here!). But like too many of this author's books, The Renegade's Heart cannot descend into schizoid character motivations soon enough.
In fact, like in Renegade, characterization in this book runs in all directions, three hundred and sixty degrees, and any rare consistency in characterization must be due to pure, random luck.
Consider Diego. First he insists that he is not his brother. Let him drink wine, hic. Okay. Then he dons the Renegade mask, and undergoes a miraculous transformation in philosophy. He will now be noble! A hero! For his people, his fellow man, even if his fellow man looks down and spits on him! Hmmm, but what the heck, I think - at least he's sparing me the whining. But no. His instant transformation also means that now he will feel that he can never deserve a woman like Melanie! Because he is so cheap and slutty and dirty and worthless, that's why. I'm glad to see a slut so in touch with his inner self, but really, not that old whiny plot again, please.
But the author gives that up when the plot is right for Diego and Melanie to make love. So now I am glad that the whining session never materializes, but at the same time, Diego is starting to really come off as schizophrenic.
Then there's this strange inconsistency in Diego's decision to hide his identity as the Renegade from Melanie. When Melanie first arrives, everybody, including Diego and the Chinese sidekick Chen, can't tell Melanie fast enough of the story of Rafael playing the Renegade and all the backstory of Renegade to clue in newbie readers as well as Melanie. Since Melanie knows everything, why does he bother to pretend that he's not the new Renegade? If at any point Diego tells me that maybe he doesn't want her to know so that anyone torturing her to death would never learn of his true identity, I may be okay with that. But Diego never really has a plausible explanation for his behavior. And that's exasperating because Chen, Diego, and that horse-caring fellow - and me, of course - knows who the Renegade is. Why not Melanie? They trust her well enough in any other matters to consider her an ally.
Then there's Diego's limp/not-limp thing.
And that's just Diego. If I am to start on Melanie, and then Chen, and maybe even the other Chinese, Victoria, I'll have to do a mini-series out of this review. The Young And The Bipolar, perhaps.
And the irritating concept of the poor Renegade having to do every-fricking-thing to save everybody from evil. Yes, it is logical that the whole town, who probably outnumbers the armed baddies, has to rely on a single person - armed with a sword - to liberate them all from oppression. Just as it is logical that the armed baddies, upon seeing a lone rider in a silly black mask charging at them, stand there and gape like stupid fools until the rightfully irate Baddie Leader yells, "Shoot them! Shoot them!" And by then, it's too late, of course.
At the end of the day, The Renegade's Heart is more of a badly plotted, ultra-cheesy Zorro fantasy. If this is a movie, it will have "straight-to-video" stamped all over it. Really inconsistent characterization, implausible plot development, and a bunch of lazy-ass country bumpkins relying on one overworked superhero to do all their dirty works all cause The Renegade's Heart to sink down the bog of mediocrity faster than a trashing elephant pushed down a quicksand pit. What a waste, see ya, ciao, et cetera, blah blah, that sort of thing.
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