A bloodthirsty debut novel following a 19th-century man’s escape from bondage and the sadistic Baton Rouge clan that ruthlessly tracks him all over the American prairie.
Living life as a slave in the Deep South is hellish enough, but young Sebastian Fleet must also contend with being the personal property of prosperous Louisiana businessman and homicidal killer Peter Laroque. When the courageous youngster eventually defies his tormenter, and his Jack the Ripper–like proclivities, he’s sent hurtling on a wild Western adventure that introduces him to great warrior chiefs, shifty charlatans, riverboat captains, fur trappers and more. Finding refuge at a Mandan village located along the Missouri River, Sebastian quickly distinguishes himself and earns the name “Stormcrow” after being warmly adopted into the tribe. What the growing young man doesn’t realize, however, is that Laroque’s sons—Edward, George and Jacques—are bent on hunting him down in revenge for their loathsome father’s death: “Edward decided that when he found the boy his name would be Dog, and that is exactly how he would treat him….When the boy was captured, he could chop off his feet.” The bloody Laroques also happen to be interested in making a killing in the burgeoning beaver fur trade—a business enterprise that puts the murderous brothers and Sebastian on a deadly collision course. The initial confrontation inside a Mandan lodge is taut and loaded with a sickening expectation of explosive violence. In fact, extreme violence is a major element of Applin’s otherwise appealing adventure tale. The vivid narrative is consistently hard-edged and brutal, without sparing or diluting any of the ugly racism of the era. Similarly preserved is the disturbing, ultragraphic depictions of perverse savagery and torture. Those depictions are powerful, though readers might be tempted to skip over a few especially gory passages.
A wonderfully engaging Western saga that calls for both hands on the reins.