Title: Contact — The Battle for America Book One: Coming of the Storm
Publisher: Pocket Books
Authors: Michael and Kathleen O’Neal Gear
Pages: 496 pp.
What can two lovers do when their world is invaded by forces they can’t believe are real? For Black Shell, a failed warrior and trader who knows all the cultures and languages of the area of the panhandle of what would become Florida, and Pearl Hand, a woman he wins in an archery contest, the unbelievable happens as they try to fight De Soto in 1539. The total brutality and metal weapons of the Spanish can’t defeat cunning strategy, but if a traitor is in their midst bribes may win over honor. Their last hope when all seems lost comes from the Gods of the dead, but the only way to them is to walk the Path of the Dead.
Can cunning, love and wooden arrows stop steel armor and greed? In a fight between Gods, can any humans win?
As one of the battles approaches, Black Shell must face his terrors.
I swallowed hard, my heart skipping. “Black Shell, the trader, died when Horned Serpent swallowed him. I am only beginning to see the man who was born of that death.” A man beyond the white and red Power, a creature of the Underworld who existed only for a single purpose.
I could see the sudden uncertainty in her eyes, and then she gave me a brave smile. “That man tricked Water Panther. He eluded the Kristianos with the help of a Spirit dog. He stood face-to-face with Horned Serpent, and passed his judgment. You went through death and war, unfrightened by the ghosts of the slain. Perhaps that’s the kind of warrior we need now.”
In Coming of the Storm Michael and Kathleen O’Neal Gear bring their excellent writing abilities and backgrounds as professional archaeologists to their new series. Their previous fourteen volume series, The People of the Earth, chronicled American prehistory from the Bering land bridge to the 1300’s A.D, from Alaska to northern Florida. Like all their books, the main characters are well-rounded and fascinating. Even the forward is fascinating, as the Gears explain the story of why they wrote this book and how history has whitewashed a nightmare.
The only element that may be disconcerting is their habit of having frames to their stories. In this case it is Pearl Hand as an old woman who is the narrator. It can be frustrating because you can feel that you are missing pieces of the characters’ later lives. I suppose the authors wanted to leave some things to your imagination.
Instead of DeSoto the hero and explorer we remember from history class, here is the reality: a band of bloodthirsty, greedy psychopaths. This is far more realistic than the sanitized history you learned in school, as illustrated by this passage:
Past Ocale, the trail of the Kristianos was easy to follow. Not only did the cabayos and the passage of so many feet churn the trail into a wallow, but every now and then we passed a dead body, the hapless man or woman literally worked to death. From the tattoos we could tell if they were Uzita, Moscoso, Tocaste, or one of Irriparacoxi’s. The ones who had been in the collars had had their heads cut off; the others had been finished with a sword stroke when they’d finally collapsed.
The Gears’ novels have as much action and adventure as those of Bernard Cornwell, and they have as much skill with characters and magic as Mercedes Lackey.
[Joyce Frohn has been published in ClarkesWorld, Writer’s Digest and Tales of the Unanticipated. She is married with a seven-year-old daughter. She has been a professional writer for years, but feels she is still learning.]