Sumrall (Metal Storm, 2015, etc.) returns to the Weird West in this novel following the events surrounding a Native American revolt.
When a combined force of Cheyenne and Comanche warriors attacks a massive westward bound wagon train, massacring over 1,000 pioneers, Gen. Philip Sheridan sends Maj. George “Sandy” Forsyth to bring the uprising to an end. Specifically, Forsyth is tasked with executing Roman Nose, the Cheyenne warrior at the movement’s head. “You won’t catch him,” explains Sheridan to Forsyth. “He’ll catch you, and you will kill him.” Forsyth gets a posse of 50 experienced gunfighters to aid him in his quest. Even so, he regards it as a suicide mission. Roman Nose possesses a mysterious war bonnet, created by the great medicine man White Bull, which, via some unknown magic, makes its wearer seemingly invincible. Forsyth seeks help from George Armstrong Custer, a hero of the recent Civil War and widely regarded as the nation’s finest cavalryman. The famous soldier refuses Forsyth’s request, though he harbors his own ambitions unknown to the rest of the Army. When a desired promotion fails to come his way, Custer begins thinking that the Cheyenne’s supernatural war bonnet might be just the thing to catapult him to the power he’s long craved. Sumrall writes in a baroque, adjective-laden prose that calls perhaps a bit too much attention to itself: “The loathsome, unwashed duo watched the baneful fruits of their months of training and rehearsals culminate into a blood orgy of murder and plunder.” The period-specific details are frequent and vivid, though too often they lure the author into digressive commentaries on various styles of saddles, hats, and guns. The novel revels in all manner of over-the-top Old West grotesqueries—opiated Port, frontier guillotines, organized brass-knuckle boxing matches—and delivers frequent and quite brutal violence. Sumrall is clearly having fun; less so, the reader. The characters are too cartoonish for their lives to feel meaningful. People keep dying in horrible ways, but the strongest feeling the reader is left with in the end is a sense of unease.
A stylized, ahistorical take on the Indian Wars.