Chunky, clunky debut novel about a one-time slave who fights Confederates, injustice, ignorance, racism, Native Americans, whatever—all superheroically.
Larger than life, that’s Sergeant Major Nate Gordon of the Tenth US Negro Cavalry. Physically, he’s imposing. Metaphorically, he doesn’t lose an inch. It’s 1866, and the bitter, bloody War Between the States has finally wound down. Nate, once a desperate runaway, has performed brilliantly as a Union soldier and was denied a commission solely on the basis of color. The vagaries of discrimination aside, Nate loves the army. Now, he’s on detached service, charged with recruiting for the recently formed Ninth US Negro Cavalry. Setting about the task in his customary brisk and efficient manner, he accomplishes wonders, overcoming obstacles that would daunt a lesser man. Such as: corrupt officers, resentful brothers-in-arms, a rabble of ex-rebels who know in their bones that the Emancipation Proclamation was not merely misconceived but misbegotten. Unflappable Nate copes with everything from an ugly mutiny to a rampant black market. Back with the Tenth, he prepares for his new role as Indian fighter. In Cheyenne country, he meets the Dog Soldiers, led by the warrior chief Cougar Eyes, a fierce and implacable enemy, but one from whom he earns grudging admiration and a respectful nickname: Buffalo Gordon he is from that time forward. He also meets the irresistible Cara, half-Mexican, half-Indian, all winsome female, for whom he falls head over heels. Five-hundred-plus pages of murder, betrayal, endless victories, occasional setbacks, ample servings of graphic sex, and at the end Nate’s still Nate, unchanged and in fact immutable. That’s because he was perfect to begin with.
The research seems sound enough, but one-dimensional characters and consistently clumsy prose doom this first of a series. There may be a story worth telling here, but the grandson of Sinclair Lewis hasn’t found it yet.