Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Where the Bones Rest

By Roger Pavey
$3.99 at Smashwords.com

British scholar Eric Anderson wrote that “the classical historical novel – as concocted by Walter Scott and perfected by Tolstoy – gives the reader an unexpected viewpoint from which to witness a great historical moment.”

In Where the Bones Rest, Roger Pavey tells the stories of ordinary people caught up in the drama of the last Indian war fought east of the Mississippi River. The “unexpected viewpoint” is ground level with a young Indian wife and mother, an opportunistic physician/newspaperman/soldier and a teenage white girl who survived the slaughter of her parents and most of her family by marauders of the Saukie Nation.

The novel has the tone of a sweeping saga that could go on for generations. But it largely confines itself to the period from 1828 to 1833, in which 1,500 Native Americans led by the old warrior they called Black Sparrow Hawk were harassed and then pursued by a ragtag army of mainly volunteer soldiers in the inevitable clash of corn vs. railroad.

In its structure and its detailed descriptions of the suffering experienced by those on both sides, Where the Bones Rest is akin to GI-focused war novels such as World War II’s The Naked and the Dead and the current Vietnam book Matterhorn. It doesn’t draw any large lessons from the Black Hawk War, and, though it treats Namesa, the leading character, and her people with great sympathy the brutality the Native Americans perpetrated against innocent white civilians is not ignored. Nor is the deprivation suffered by the underfed, ill-equipped soldiers.

When we meet Namesa, she is a teenage girl playing classic approach-avoidance games with her eventual husband Jumping Fish. Early on she reflects: “All my life
things had been certain before me. The seasons revolved. We planted. We harvested.
We hunted.” But now Jumping Fish tells her the women will not plant corn in the year 1832 because the white settlers have taken over their farm lands. Instead Black Hawk will seek alliances with other tribes and the British in hopes they will supply both food and aid in battle.

Dr. Addison Philleo is the doctor who sees the opportunity to start the first newspaper in Galena, Illinois. He volunteers as an army surgeon, but he also aspires to glory in combat with the Indians. Philleo more or less serves as the villain of the piece, but he’s only an observer not a decision maker.

The least detailed of the three storytellers is Rachel Hall, a 17-year-old, who along with her sister survives the massacre of her family and neighbors, including a baby girl whose head was bashed on a stump to make her stop crying. The sisters are taken prisoner by the raiding party, and their part of the story recounts their mostly decent treatment by their captives and their eventual return to their community.

The writing in Where the Bones Rest is excellent, even if Pavey allows a few anachronistic phrases like “not so much” into the text. The book is filled with colorful descriptions and dialogue. And for a small slice of history most readers will know little about, Pavey really seems to have done his research and created a book that feels credible.

Those who enjoy historical fiction or stories of the westward expansion of the United States will find Where the Bones Rest a most satisfying read.

Click here to link to Where the Bones Rest.

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