Jacobs (Sleepers, Wake, 1991) makes clear the tragedy of an artist inhibited by the circumstances of his birth in this unusual historical novel, set during a brutal English-Indian war in 17th-century Massachusetts. James Printer is a Nipmuck Indian who is taken in and reared by Master Henry Dunster at Harvard College after the boy's mother dies. The day he first sees a book, ""a thing covered in leather and divided into thin, white pieces like leaves,"" is ""the first day of my life."" He becomes an apprentice in the printing shop of Samuel Green, whose 11-year-old son, Bartholomew, narrates. Wise, dignified, and gentle, James is caught in the war and forced to flee. Bartholomew struggles with his own mastery of printing, dotes on his cousin Annie, and documents the penny-pinching complaints of his father in a manner suggestive of contemporary children rolling their eyes at their parents. He witnesses the extreme brutality of warfare: hangings and beheadings, with heads perched on sticks as gruesome trophies. Through Bartholomew, Jacobs elucidates the nature of war, of good men, and evil ones, and makes his discussions intensely accessible to readers. The story moves swiftly to the gratifying depiction of the production of the second Indian Bible. In an afterword, Jacobs describes his contact with one of Printer's books, an encounter that only makes this novel more vital.