Idiosyncratic, inspired, and convoluted as ever, Vollmann offers the second installment in his seven-part series (Seven Dreams), moving from the Vikings and Vinland of The IceShirt (1990) to the French and their impact on native populations in and around Quebec in the first half of the 17th century. Taking the Iroquois Saint Catherine Tekakwitha (1656-80) as a point of departure, Vollmann launches himself into a turbulent mytho-historico-geographical ""Stream of Time""--which in this case swirls and eddies first around the adventures of Samuel de Champlain, his comings and goings in New France, and his indefatigable efforts to map the unfamiliar territory for his own edification as much as for posterity. Always suspicious of the ""savages,"" meticulous in protecting the property of those chartered to reap the beaver harvest and other riches of the region while eager to gain his share, courageous and feared to the end, Champlain emerges as a man frequently at odds with circumstance but oddly worthy of his legendary status. The man of action gives way to men of the cloth in the latter half, as the Jesuits outmaneuver all opposition on a zealous mission of God to convert the Huron Nation or die trying. Advancing beyond the tentative fringes of French settlement along the St. Lawrence River, they seem to be the black-gowned harbingers of death when one plague after another decimates Huron villages. Happy to baptize the dead and the dying, they are resisted by shamans who have no power to halt either them or their diseases, but the ferocious Iroquois, traditional Huron enemies, are on hand to deliver the coup de grace. Jesuit martyrs are among the victims as the Huron cease to exist as a people but--like Vollmann's restless dream-vision of North America--they are unstoppable. Vast and vivid as Canada itself, mingling the cold, deep waters of history with the present, and quixotic and ironic to its core. An immensely rewarding saga.