In Jackman's allegorical Western tale, Augustus Winter, with "the strength of will, the sense of purpose, radiating off him like heat," is cut from the same bloody cloth as Blood Meridian’s mysterious nihilist, Judge Holden.
From the opening page, a vortex of violence rages through the book, leading from Sherman’s March to the Sea to Chicago, Arizona and Oklahoma. The men who will become the Winter Family are initially a group of "bummers," foragers scouting ahead of Sherman’s army. They're first led by psychopathic Lt. Quentin Ross, who has a face "powerful but empty and alien," but it's Winter, with "a shuttered light of madness" in his eyes, who will soon seize control. His henchmen will be the brothers Empire, each "stupid and cruel," and other characters less diabolical, like Fred Johnson, a master-murdering slave, or immigrant Jan Müller, who even in Georgia believes he’s "doing something very, very wrong in the service of some higher ideal that was slipping farther away all the time." The gang wreaks havoc across Georgia, next joins the rape of the Reconstruction South, and then hires on as mercenaries to keep Chicago government from being seized by Democrats. The Chicago settings are Sinclair Lewis’ The Jungle writ large, from slaughterhouse to saloons to street fights. Genocide’s next, with the marauders killing Native Americans in Oklahoma amid the land rush’s "lawless and chaotic" aftermath. Add St. Augustine, Hobbes, scalp-hunting and, yes, waterboarding, and it’s evident that the unrelenting violence is symbolic of Jackman’s belief that "every society has at its core an animating myth, a guiding narrative, a shared lens through which to view the world"—and here, it's persuasion by Spencer rifle.
Bloodletting as philosophical exercise, and not for the faint of heart.