Brawls and battles ensue when a trapping party encounters a weird tribe deep in the wilds of 19th-century Upper Michigan.
Swanson (Mesmer’s Disciple, 2012) returns with another work of historical fiction featuring tough-guy former patrolman Alvord Rawn. In Chicago in 1847, after being drummed out of New York for excessive violence, Rawn falls out with his double-crossing Chicago law enforcement superior and joins an ill-fated fur-trapping expedition to Upper Michigan with a motley crew of adventurers, including rough mountain men, a witty Irish immigrant and a nerdy scientist. Despite warnings from a tycoon named Cadwallader Jones and ominous Indian legends that their destination is protected by fearsome, copper-clad manitous, the group ventures deep into the wilderness. Soon enough, they’re attacked, but it turns out, their opponents bleed and aren’t gods after all; they’re men—a lost tribe of Welsh Indians descended from Madoc, a Welsh prince who immigrated to America in the 12th century. Hemmed in by advancing settlers, this tribe, like other natives, is just trying to survive, in this case by spinning fearsome legends and attacking interlopers. Buckets of blood spill throughout this tale, which ends happily for most and at least honorably for the dead and maimed who pile up on the losing end of the countless conflicts. Swanson bases his highly creative, action-packed novel on legend, backed by substantial historical research and acumen right down to the language, as florid as a 19th-century novel but as vigorous as a James Bond movie. Though glitches with writing mechanics crop up often enough to be distracting, and the occasional cliché slips through, Swanson creates convincing portraits of the men and their times, capturing the raw, restless spirit of the age and place. His descriptions of the land and the characters peopling it are particularly acute—so much so that the constant brannigans and battles sometimes seem overdone and anticlimactic. But this is a digestible and enjoyable fleshing out of a legend and setting often overlooked in the wide expanse of historical fiction.
A rollicking, rip-roaring novel, big and wild as the American frontier.