‘You stayed’: Love, law and the reservation in Jenna Kernan’s Apache Protectors series

Johanna Hoorenman (Utrecht University)

Session 11.3: Subversions of Race, Culture and History


Native American themed romance has long been one of the most popular subgenres of popular romance. For a number of years, the Romantic Times had specific Reviewer’s Choice Awards for “Best Indian Romance,” “Best Historical Indian Romance,” and “Best Indian Romance by a new author.” Its popularity testifies to an enduring fascination with imagined romantic Anglo-Native American encounters. It shows a longstanding fixation on the imagined romantic chronotope of “the Native American tribe” that romanticizes pre-contact tribal cultures while often obscuring the effects of the Anglo-American colonial expansion.

However, while the settings of Native Romance have overwhelmingly been historical, one of the most popular series at the moment is Jenna Kernan’s Apache Protector series in Harlequin’s Intrigue line. These are romantic suspense novels, in a contemporary setting, involving Apache characters.

This paper focuses on the initial four books in the Apache Protector series, published in 2015 and 2016, revolving around four brothers (and one missing sister) on an Apache reservation in Arizona. All brothers work in some form of law enforcement, and the books explore questions of crime and justice, love and trust specifically in relation to the indigenous heritage of the brothers, and the special legal status of Native reservations. Place functions in this series as a form of anchored identity, centralizing questions of land, community, family and off-reservation adoption in the romance plots, as well as questions of borders, immigration, trafficking and land rights in the suspense plots.

The paper will examine the way in which this series subverts the dominant mode of historical settings, and how its crossover with suspense provides a space to engage with questions of (in)justice for its Apache heroes. [Hoorenman draws] on Gilles Lipovetsky’s theory of hypermodernity to explore to what extent these novels supply a form of cultural tourism to an imagined space of tribal community for a hypermodern, largely non-native audience. [Hoorenman compares] linguistic anthropologist Keith Basso’s use of the term chronotope in relation to Apache lands to the representation of the physical environment in the novel and its importance to the romance and suspense plots.


Andreas Hussein:

  • Emergency of memory
  • Commodification of memory
  • “This is not a pipe” – it is a representation of a pipe
  • The medium is the message

Native American themed romance novels

  • Overwhelmingly historical
  • Non-native authors
  • White protagonist (usually heroine)
  • Not seriously affected by epidemics
  • Native hero may speak English but learned from friendly Indian Agent or missionary rather than at a boarding school
  • Heroine remains with tribe rather than falling in love
  • HEA is not complicated
  • Desired shaped by orientalise notions of appeal of the exotic
  • White woman is not a threat to the tribe but an asset
  • Latent fears of reader appeased by a hero who may be excellent warrior but uses killing to protect heroine rather than threaten her
  • Reader’s genuine interest in native peoples is satisfied

Increasingly since 2000s, these books have been set in contemporary times:

  • Intrigue, romantic suspense
  • Jenna Kernan’s Apache Protector series is about 4 brothers, with a linking plot about a missing sister through 4 books
  • All working in law enforcement
  • Space of reservation with special status makes it good for plot – crimes can be committed, federal police have no jurisdiction
  • Final book – sunrise ceremony for sister. Very detailed, reader is left to assume it is accurate
  • However reader doesn’t know what they don’t see
  • In reality, it is connected to onset of menstruation, but this is not mentioned in book.
  • It is just positioned as for her because she is turning 12

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