As a Native American slave returns home, the Spaniards who accompany her learn to better appreciate nature in this historical novel.
In the late 1700s, 14-year-old Watili enjoys a peaceful life with her family in the village of the Parussi band of the Ute tribe (in present-day Colorado). They enjoy what author Garcia (Shared Lives, Twin Sun, 2016, etc.) describes as their “Oneness with Nature.” However, their tranquility is shattered when a band of Apache Indians raids their village in search of people to enslave. Watili and her brother are captured and forced to march more than 700 miles. Upon reaching El Paso, they’re sold into servitude, and Watili begins work as a slave maid for a Spanish family. She dreams of returning to her own loved ones back home, and the opportunity to do so arises when she meets Don Bernardo, a famous Spanish explorer and cartographer. The two agree to work together: Watili will show Bernardo lucrative sources of gold and silver ore near her village if he takes her there and grants her freedom. The two embark on their journey, soon to be joined by a charming cibolero (Spanish buffalo hunter), and the trio find plenty of adventure along the way. This book is valuable in how it details the slave trade among Native American peoples—a topic that will be unfamiliar to many readers. However, because Garcia offers no notes on the novel’s historicity, the reader has little to no sense of what’s fact or fiction. The book’s biggest weakness, though, is its lack of subtlety in its spiritual message. The author is so adamant about advocating “Nature” that his characters to seem more like mouthpieces than real people. For example, here’s the final exchange of the two Spaniards: “ ‘What we have seen was the experience of two Europeans…two outsiders who were given a rare glimpse into the Oneness of God and Nature.’ ‘I am moved by this experience….’ ‘My knowledge of the spiritual realm has awoken.’ ” A subtler approach would have been more likely to engage readers.
A preachy environmental message dominates this tale of the 18th century.