Wild And Free
by Jackie Stephens, historical (2000)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-6661-9


You know, I never noticed this book's existance until I read two wildly contrasting reviews both at The Romance Reader (five hearts!) and All About Romance (D-). It is as if both reviewers were reading different books. I have to find out for myself what the fuss is all about.

(Memo to the Kensington "Art Team" *snort*: I overlooked this book six times in the romance aisle because the cover is so devoid of any attention-grabbing element; I can't even make out the font from the ugly orange-brown background. Are you a publishing house or what? Tsk tsk.)

Anyway, I am afraid my opinion of Jackie Stephens' Wild And Free is much more mundane than any of the reviews mentioned above. I like it. I don't hate it. It's pretty much okay, and that's it. What it does have in abundance is a surfeit of action - stampedes, crossfires, ammo unlimited, and lots of people getting hurt.

Matt Lanier is a man on a mission. Oh boy, yes, that means he is out on a vengeance quest. This time, the bad dude who killed his brother. Meanwhile, his herd has gone missing, and he wants those cattle back too. He finds the cattle eventually, with a gang of cowboys among whom he finds the alluring Sunny Donovan.

Sunny blames herself for Danny's death (Danny's the dead brother by the way). Sunny also wants to save the Wild West, her half-siblings, and bring down the Outlaws of the West, and with such noble aspirations, she can't be anything but Romance Heroine. Matt and she join forces, and the bullets start flying. Yee-ha.

Wild And Free is anything but wild and free. It follows all the Western adventure formula to the tee. Since this is a time of Political Correctness, we have half-breed saints and full-breed American Indian shamans with glowing halos on their head. Sunny goes out alone to Save the Day, only to need saving herself when she ends up bungling her superheroine antics. When a bad guy/snake/whatever is disposed off, someone/something charges at the Good Guys Encampment from the horizon to keep the action going.

Sure, I pretty much have fun with the gory violence. Matt and Sunny sure have lots of stamina to get into and out of trouble so often, and let's not forget the afterdark sleeping bag shennigans as well. But with so much going-on's, ultimately the relationship angle suffers. Matt doesn't trust women because he has been jilted at the altar. Poor man. Sunny is so guilt-ridden because she knows she causes Danny's death even though it isn't she who put a bullet through that poor man. Isn't she so selfless and noble?

And of course, the bad guy must be obviously evil. Who knows, after all, that without his nasty bad breath, Donald Duck accent, pirate eyepatch, and porcine girth, I may just lose sight of him in all the action going on and mistake him for a good guy.

For an uncomplicated, romance-lite, non-stop bullet-and-badass romp through a dime novel version of Wild Wild West, look no further than Wild And Free. It's corny, cheesy, and fun, if in a rather transient and unmemorable way.

Rating: 77


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