The scorching sun and the hard life of the hinterlands of Northeastern Brazil are cause and circumstance in the story of the rise and fall of a holy city. Half-breed Antonio Maciel was a dysentery-ridden mystic who turned from the importunities of women and feuding with whites to religion. As ""the Counsellor"" and St. Sebastien's missionary he gathered a following and settled the city of Canudos, where pilgrims who devoted their lives to prayer depended on the pillaging of nearby communities for food. Leaders of men came to him in the form of those escaping from their pasts, among them Pajehu, whose relentless militarism maintained Canudos against several government expeditions until the last man in Canudos died. The themes of climate and race, religion and politics, run insistently through this story, which nevertheless is longer than it is deep. Moving slowly under the burden of the hinterland heat, it dispassionately discloses violence.