American Indians and colonial settlers struggle to understand each other in Virginia of 1700.
In just a few years, the Saponi Indian tribe has lost half of its people to war and the white man’s sickness. To make matters worse, it’s facing increasing pressure from more powerful Iroquois and Tuscarora raiders, and, of course, from the endless wave of European advancement. Unsure of how to meet these challenges, the Saponi chief sends his 13-year-old son, Kadomico, to school in Williamsburg, the capital of Virginia. This fast-paced work of historical fiction from Laird (Quail High Above the Shenandoah, 2006) then follows Kadomico and other Indian students as they learn more about the English, their “firesticks,” their “talking papers” and their religion. Meanwhile, Tuscarora raiders attack a defenseless Nahyssan village and capture a girl on whom Kadomico has a wild crush. Laird vividly describes daily life in 1700 for both colonists and Indians and peppers in some suspenseful fight scenes. Though generally well-researched, the book contains a few factual mistakes. Antelope, for example, never lived in the southeastern United States, and pheasants hadn’t yet been introduced. Some of the dialogue also comes across as wooden or hackneyed. “Horses act crazy, no good off-trail, no good in the river. Horses are no good,” an Indian warrior says at one point. Overall, though, Laird captures the spirit of the time. His characters, both Indian and white, are overwhelmingly brave, competent and interested in helping their fellow humans (not counting one group of drunken white yokels and the troublemaking Tuscarora). This is mostly a feel-good book. Laird hints at, but never goes into detail, about how the settlers eventually drove the Saponi and their neighbors practically to extinction. Perhaps that will come in the planned sequel.
A worthwhile read that focuses on the daily lives of Indians and colonists rather than on famous historical events.