What Am I Reading? The Last Witch of Cahokia

What Am I Reading? The Last Witch of Cahokia

 LastWitch_front-Cover2-160x225

            The Last Witch of Cahokia (ISBN 9780979473746 Redoubt Books/Bluebird Publishing 2013) by Raymond Scott Edge concludes the trilogy of books beginning with Flight of the Piasa (“Flight”) and continuing with Witches of Cahokia (“Witches”).

            Here are the blogs for the previous two novels:

            You can read my review of Flight of the Piasa here: https://michaelgcurry.com/2014/07/03/what-am-i-reading-flight-of-the-piasa-by-raymond-edge/

            And my review of Witches of Cahokia here:

https://michaelgcurry.com/2014/08/02/what-am-i-reading-witches-of-cahokia/

            It is possible to read all three books alone, but this last book is really based on the events of the second. The first book is complete. The second is also complete, although the story of Snow Pine may confuse you if you do not read the first. But Last Witch (as I will refer to the third book in this little review) is based on the events of the second book: it will be difficult to read alone – although it also tells a complete tale.

            Four tales, in fact. It picks up in the days and weeks of Cahokia in all of its threads.

            1) Daniel French and his conflict with the Illini Confederation of the twenty seven female pre-Columbian skeletons.

            2) Josh Green’s “revenge” against the professors and university that wronged him,

            3) Fred Eldridge’s trip to China to examine an ancient Native American buffalo hide, and

            4) Shen Fu’s journal of meeting Wind Sage and their return to China in the early to mid-fifteenth century.

SPOILERS AHEAD

            We meet for the third time the family and friends of Daniel French. He has two problems – the first problem was introduced in Witches – the Illini Confederation demands the immediate reburial of the twenty-seven female bodies found near Cahokia Mounds.

            Daniel has meetings and discussions with the Illini Confederation and his Provost. This is a good and canny way of bringing in an Info Dump. “As you know, Bob, NAGPRA was passed in 1990 and it provides …” Subjects ranging from digs at Native American burial sites to the Mormon religion is discussed this way. The previous books had their info dumps as well, some awkward – discussing archaeological terms with fellow archaeologists – but the author whimsically gets around the awkwardness with an aside such as, “…ask a professor a simple question and you get a lecture.” A good way to get around a writer’s unavoidable conundrum.

            Daniels’ other problems deals with a mysterious character knows only as Ghost Dancer. Well, the readers know he is Josh Green, but the characters do not. Josh dug up the remains of Elijah Parish Lovejoy.

            As you know, Bob, Elijah Lovejoy was an abolitionist journalist who was killed by a pro-slavery mob in 1837, making him a martyr to the cause. See what I mean by unavoidable? His gravemarker is a nice historical site in Alton and many a speech and many a political announcements have been made there in the past nearly-two centuries. Josh sets up photo ops of the remains at various Native American massacre sites in the west and mid-west – as if he had stolen a garden gnome. He photographs the bones and mails the postcards to Daniel and the press.

            This is the “revenge” of which I speak. We follow Josh across the country in his ghoulish protest. Eventually he meets and befriends a Lakota family – Margaret, her brothers Peter, James and John and their father Poker Joe. Margaret helps Josh dry out and help redeem him. He goes through the ceremony to marry Margaret (who is excellently written as a strong and independent woman), become a member of the Lakota people, returns the Lovejoy remains, and takes up the argument against archaeological study of Native American remains.

            Throughout the book (and even on the back cover) was the mantra: “If I dug up your great-great-grandfather that would be sacrifice. If you dug up mine, that would be science, How can that be right?” the issue is discussed thoroughly through the book – particular at its end.

            The premise of course, couldn’t be further from wrong. Our European ancestors are frequently dug up and examined:

            Earlier this year ten skeletons from the Viking era were excavated in Flakstad, an island in the Norwegian Sea – some intact, some without heads – thought to be owners buried with slaves based on their diets revealed through isotope analysis.

            Also, eight graves were excavated dating from the early twelfth century in Brandenburg, Germany after being initially dug up by badgers.

            In 2008 a Templar Knight was found buried in an underground tomb near Rennes-le-Chateau in France. Did the Masons demand immediate reburial?

            The body of Sir Hugh Despenser the Younger was excavated at Hulton Abbey in Staffs, England – he is believed to be the lover of King Edward the First – hence his mutilated state.

            Then there was the news of finding King Richard III’s body under a car parking lot in early 2013. Did the royal family demand his immediate reburial?

            The point of Native Americans is that the European excavations are not put on display in museums and gift shops or held by private collectors. True – they bodies are or will be reinterred and given the respect due. Therein lay the difference, I think.

            But it brings up a point that was nagging me while reading the debate: Josh/Joseph’s stand is no different than his anarchic beliefs with the CRA – now he has an adopted family of Native Americans and the public opinion of guilty white folks to back him up. He is trying to accomplish the goals of the CRA but now through the sheen of respectability and precedent.  I didn’t buy it.

            But the author is to be commended for causing that reaction out of this reader – not condemned. This isn’t a mistake or an error on his part. To make me react this way to a fictitious character in a fictitious setting is the goal of every good writer.

            So what is the solution? The book provides one and, wisely, the solution is presented by Josh-Joseph. Thus expunging his earlier villainy in the eyes of the reader. Well, I’m with Daniel on this one; I still don’t trust him…

            In China, Fred and Marge Eldridge befriend Ben Wang, his wife Ah Cy and their daughter. Fred (and we) learns of Chinese culture as he examines the buffalo hide telling the tale of the White Buffalo Calf Women from Witches. The Cult of Ku, the bringing and cultivating of corn and the Viking rape – all events we the readers are aware from the prior book – are reviewed and examined with skepticism by Eldridge. Again Eldridge is brought to life and is a three-dimensional character as opposed to the nay-saying curmudgeon of Flight. Fred helps Ben and Ah when Ah becomes pregnant with their second child – verbotten in China – and his solution is written well. “Human rights” is the topic of discussion in these parts of the novel. What happens when my “pursuit of happiness” conflicts with others? What if there is no creator? Or there is a conflict as to who the creator is? How can these truths be self-evident if they have NOT been endowed?

            In a coincidence that only happens in novels, Fred is contacted by the same man who gave Daniel the transcript that made up the bulk of Flight – that told the tale of Sun and Snow Pine and their voyage to America and, eventually, to the cliffs of the Mississippi where the Piasa is painted.  This time he has a manuscript telling the tale of the Last Witch of Cahokia as told by a scholar names Shen Fu who travels with Admiral Zhu Wen, whom we met near the end of Witches. The last witch, who was unnamed save she was called She-Who-Waits, is given the name Wind Sage and travels with them back to China with the buffalo hide and Sun Kai’s manuscript in tow.

            It is tempting to parallel this part of the novel with Flight, but Shen Fu’s manuscript takes up only about 30+ pages of the book’s 244. It brings a nice conclusion to the witch’s line and it is fun reading Eldridge’s reaction to the manuscript. Comparing his skepticism with Daniel’s acceptance of Sun Kai’s manuscript in Flight is fun. Many times in Flight, Eldridge said to throw it out, it was fake, no one at the time wrote like that, etc. But here he was just as enthralled as Daniel with his manuscript – he asked about the historical events of the manuscript – even visited the village/city Shen Fu and Wind Sage lived. Stood on the Great Wall as they did and where they did. The writer did a good job showing the shoe on this particular foot.

END OF SPOILERS

            Last Witch pours a lot of information and brings up moral questions absent from the first two books. Between the info dumps and the morality discussions and, literally, lectures we are provided with enough information to take sides on the issues and be firm in our convictions. But we also find ourselves cheering on the peacemakers and hope they can find enough common ground to provide a reasonable solution – and hope we can do so in real life too.

            It is a novel of redemption and forgiveness and puts us in the middle of the debate between the search for knowledge versus respect for a culture’s beliefs.

            The author avoids the usual traps in books such as these – bad allegories, awkward info dumps, etc. Such things make a book preachy rather than entertaining. Witch is not preachy and VERY entertaining. I cared what happened to the characters – I hated to put it down at the end of a chapter during bedtime!

            The info dumps here are well done, although at times repetitive – the fact that the Cahokia Mound people have no known direct descendents and the Illini moved into the area centuries later is now etched in my brain.

            But that is a minor complaint – I loved all three books and will return to them in years to come. All three are quick and enjoyable reads.

            I hate to be petty, but there is one typo repeated from Flight in Witch … it’s “Shaggy” from “Scooby Doo” not “Scruffy” from “Scooby Do”. Although it‘s nit-picking, to a couch-potato boomer like me it might as well be in red type!

            Please don’t let things like that stop your enjoyment of these books. It didn’t stop me.

            Last Witch is still a Redoubt Book but published through Bluebird Publishing. My copies of the first two books were not so published. Thus the typeset and interiors of Last Witch is different from the first two. It certainly does not affect the readability of the story, but the difference is notable.

            Check the author’s website for his blog entries regarding his trip to China here: http://www.redoubtbooks.com/Author_s_Notebook.html

            Support independent authors! Support local authors! Read their books! Tell others to read their books! Post positive comments online if you enjoy it! Please?

 

Michael Curry

 

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Robin Williams, 1951 – 2014

oh captain

O Captain, my Captain! Our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! My Captain! Rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up–for you the flag is flung for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

 ***

Robin Williams’ death affected me more than I can say. He was a comedic genius whose comedy style really struck a chord with me in the 1970s and since. He and I shared a love of Jonathan Winters – I used to emulate Winters’ routine of putting on various hats and improving a bit based on the hat. Robin Williams would do that in his routines, too,

I did not react with this much emotion even with John Lennon – it was just as shocking but I was only a kid of 16 and did not have the maturity yet to realize the tremendous loss we all suffered. George Harrison’s death was sad, but he suffered and his passing was an end to his pain. Bob Hope’s death – well, he lived SUCH a full life his passing, although sad, was not surprising. Anticipated but still not expected.  These were the words my dad used to describe the death of my mother.

I hope Robin Williams’ death brings depression and other mental diseases to the fore. It looks like it already has. Suicide Prevention hotlines are already littering Facebook walls with his photo. If any good can come of his death … let’s hope this will.

 Deepest condolences to his family and friends. And to all of us.

 ***

From USA Today 8/2/14:

Advocates for people with mental illness say they hope Williams’ death will motivate more people to get help for depression, and spur the USA to treat suicide as a public health crisis. Suicide claims more than 38,000 American lives each year — more than the number killed by car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and the rate hasn’t budged in decades, says Jeffrey Lieberman, professor and chairman of psychiatry at New York’s Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons

“We know what to do to prevent suicide,” Liebeman says. “We just don’t do it.”

Williams could put a human face on a problem that often gets little attention, Lieberman says.

“He was such a charismatic and beloved figure, that if his death can galvanize our society to act instead of just grieve, it will be a fitting memorial to him.”

Contributing: Liz Szabo

Some numbers on suicide:

– 39,518 people died by suicide in the U.S. (2011)

– 108.3 per day

– 1 person every 13.3 minutes

– 3.6 male deaths for each female death by suicide

Comparison to other highly publicized causes of death per year:

  • Homicide 16,238
  • Prostate Cancer 32,050
  • Motor Vehicle Accidents 35,303
  • Suicide 39,518
  • Breast Cancer 39,520

By age:

Middle age (45-64 years): 18.6 per 100,000,

Elderly: 15.3 per 100,000

Teens (15-24) is 11 per 100,000.

(The rate for middle aged has been increasing and surpassed the rate for elderly a few years ago.)

Source: American Association of Suicidology

The national suicide prevention lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 or http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

 *** 

Here is an excellent blog describing his thoughts on suicide. I enjoyed it and hope you do to.  I had some trouble getting this hyperlink to load; I hope you do not have such problems. I did NOT receive permission from the blogger to link their post – I hope they don’t mind.

http://m.blogher.com/what-suicide-isn-t-rip-robin-williams

 Williams superman

Michael Curry

Thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy…

Guardians of the Galaxy: not a review, just some thoughts…

                 What gives, Mike? You boast that your blog is about comic books, science fiction, fantasy and all things nerdy and what have we gotten lately? Reviews of historical fiction, updates on your book Abby’s Road (now available as a Nook and in paperback from Amazon – gee, this corporate whore stuff is getting easier and easier!) and blogs about your health!! Where’s the nerdly goodness!?

                OK, OK, good point. This will make up for it. It has Marvel, Star Wars, Superman, lots of memes and links to websites – geeky enough for ya?

guardians2

                Along with .02% of the world’s population, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy this weekend. I enjoyed it very much – I will likely get the blu-ray when it comes out and will look forward to its inevitable sequels.

                The web is filled with reviews of the movie – Entertainment Weekly gave it a wonderful review and an A- rating. That’s the magazine’s highest rating possible for a non-Harry Potter or non-Tom Hanks movie. This blog review is probably the best and closest to the truth:

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/08/03/an-academic-critique-of-the-film-guardians-of-the-galaxy/

                (really captures the feeling while watching it, doesn’t it?)

                So I’m not going to review the film itself – there’s plenty of those out there. Instead I’ll share the thoughts that popped in my mind before and during the film whilst munching my popcorn.

                1) this is Marvel’s first foray into its current movie blitz with unknown characters. I’m a big comic book fan, but even I did not know much about these characters. My Marvel Universe knowledge is not as great as some, I will admit. And my knowledge of current comicdom (especially with the “Big 2”: Marvel and DC) is certainly lacking. But if you are stuck on a game show question regarding DC in the 1970s, phone-a-friend me.

                We’ve seen all the Marvel big guns lately from the various film companies that own the rights – X-Men, various Avengers (Thor, Captain America, Iron Man) and Spider-Man. (And I think it’s time – especially considering the success of Guardians – to give serious thought to a Fantastic Four redo).

                I wouldn’t put the Guardians even on Marvel’s second tier – they’re third or fourth-rate characters down there with the Squadron Supreme, Omega the Unknown and Night Nurse (don’t ask).

                “Horse Hockey!” you say. “I’m a huge fan of the Guardians! And they have a fan base that makes the Legion of Superheroes pale in comparison!” I’m glad you enjoy it; and no, they don’t.

                I barely knew most of the characters: Star Lord was more a science fiction than a superhero character from the Marvel magazine line. Gamora was a secondary character from Jim Starlin’s superb Warlock saga. Drax was a villain who fought Captain Marvel (Marvel’s Captain Marvel, not the Shazam guy), Rocket Raccoon came along during the 1980s when I stopped reading most “Big 2” comics who was in (I think) the Hulk comics. Groot was in a few Marvel horror comics in the 1950s and 1960s: one of a long line of atomic monsters with names akin to onomatopoeias of bowel movements (“Behold the Terror of Vluum!” or “And Now Comes Splart!”).

                And this is ME, who is a bit of a comics historian! I, along with most movie audiences, walked into this film with NO expectations or knowledge of the character’s history. Captain America these folks ain’t. No baggage or history to fume over. “But Bucky was a kid!” “Nick Fury’s BLACK!!??”

                THESE were my Guardians, published at the beginning of my comic book fandom:

guardians

                Recognize and remember any of them? Frankly, neither do I.

                So if the producers wanted to coast – they certainly could have. With expectations much lower than with the Avengers (expectations they met, by the way), there was no reason they needed to put on their A-game. Let’s have some fun, make a good story, use the budget we have and be satisfied with a job well done. The movie-goers would say, “It has a lot of heart and I liked it.”

                But they put on an A-game. They put as much time and consideration into all parts of the movie as they have with each of the Marvel franchise movies to date. Instead of making a movie that was good (“At least it was still better than the two Hulks”), they made a movie as good as Avengers or Winter Soldier.  They kept the fun in while telling a good story, too. The movie goers said, “It has a lot of heart and I LOVED it!”

                Putting humor in a science fiction movie is a dangerous thing to do. It could very quickly turn campy. But here (as with any good story) the humor was driven by the characters. The storyline was played straight – the humor came from the character’s reaction to their situation. This is where most humor works well and kept us riding along. It kept us connected in this alien setting.

                2) Comparisons to DC comics movies.

rocket

                I hate to join in on all the DC comics bashing, but dammit DC deserves it. I saw Guardians with a friend who saw the movie earlier that weekend. He commented that when he left Man of Steel, the audience was still woeful during the “happy” ending and bloggers argued over the movie’s merits and controversial ending (the destruction porn, Superman doesn’t take a life, etc.). People left Guardians smiling and the blogs continued the raves. You leave Guardians feeling good – you just spent a fun two-plus hours enjoying yourself. No one left Man of Steel feeling good.

                3) A peaceful world attacked by a brutal and near-omnipotent overlord and his powerful minions. Spaceship dogfight battles! Swordfights! Blasters blasting! Wretched hives of scum and villainy!

star wars

                The producers of the new Star Wars movie are tugging at their collars right now. “Eep.” Stop production right now, take pad and pencil and everyone – that means you, too, Hamill, Fisher and Ford (someone may have to help Harrison limp along) – go see it and take notes. And don’t sit near the producers of the upcoming Superman vs Batman movie – you’re there to learn how it’s done, not to listen to them mope about “but at least we have a built-in audience of basement-dwellers …”

                4) There are lots of 1970s tunes on the soundtrack. I didn’t like that too much when I first heard about it – it would lend to camp – but it fit. It gave us a connection to the main character (the only earthling) and linked us normal earthlings to the story. It was also cannily explained in the movie too. I liked that – too many movies forget about things like that!

                But it got me thinking about creator’s rights. During the movie and afterward I said how ironic that David Bowie and Eric Carmen will probably make more money from this film than Jim Starlin (who created Thanos and Gamora) and Bill Mantlo (Rocket Raccoon) will.

                This story is making the rounds:

http://io9.com/marvel-screened-guardians-of-the-galaxy-for-the-co-crea-1615584469?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

                The brother sounds a bit too satisfied, doesn’t he? He was likely blinking “SOS” into the camera.

                Go see it. Enjoy yourself during a movie. That will make for a nice change, won’t it? Go home and read about the actors and the history of the characters and the movie. Give Bill Mantlo the exact amount you spent on admission and snacks as a donation. He needs it. http://gregpak.com/love-rocket-raccoon-please-consider-donating-to-writer-bill-mantlos-ongoing-care/

                Then eagerly await the sequel. I’ll be in line with you.

                 One final thought: 

firefly

 

 

Original Material 2014 Michael Curry

 

What am I Reading? Witches of Cahokia

What Am I Reading? Witches of Cahokia

 witches

            Witches of Cahokia (ISBN 978-0-9794737-2-2, Redoubt Books, 2009) by Raymond Scott Edge is a direct sequel to his Flight of the Piasa, although it can be read without having first read the prior book.

            You can read my review of Flight of the Piasa here: https://michaelgcurry.com/2014/07/03/what-am-i-reading-flight-of-the-piasa-by-raymond-edge/

            As with Flight … it tells two stories – Snow Pine and her descendants living amongst what will become the Cahokian Mound people of the Mississippi River north of what is now St. Louis; and archaeology professor Daniel French, his (now) wife Lauren and his mentor, Dr Fred Eldridge.

            Unlike Flight, the story of the ancient cast is told as a narrative – not as an epistolary last will and testament. In Flight the majority of the book favors the ancient cast’s story. Witches is more balanced between the two stories – leaning more heavily on the ancient cast especially in the first half of the book and then on the modern cast in the last half of the book – particularly as one plot winds down and the other picks up.

 SPOILERS AHEAD

             The story of Snow Pine and her descendants begin exactly (is it too much of a pun to say “literally”?) where Flight leaves off – with the death of her husband Sun Kai in the cave complex near present-day Alton.

            We learn Snow Pine’s side of the story during Sun’s search for her in Flight: how she was taken captive and sold to the Trading People, married Beaver Lodge, befriended his head wife Fawn Heart, and otherwise became part of the village due to her amazing healing techniques. She had a child with Beaver Lodge and called her Ming.

            She is eventually ostracized because she helped heal members of the Osage tribes who were at war with the Trading People. She went to live in the valleys and caves near Sun Kai’s grave and the Piasa painting on the cliffs of the Mississippi River. She is considered a witch as her legend grows and is left alone by all sides of the conflict.

            She continues to heal anyone who asks – friend or foe. This includes a young Osage warrior, Young Wolf, who falls in love with Ming (this takes place over several years). His mother, Buffalo Woman, joins Snow Pine and they and other Trading People and Osage women form a society called the Daughters of White Buffalo Calf Woman.

            They heal; they watch the migration of tribes and buffalo and report it to Snow Pine. She advises them to tell their hunters where the buffalo are migrating. In exchange, the Daughters look for any strangers during their travels that look like her. She is convinced her people will come for her and Sun – just as Sun predicted on his deathbed. Eventually all this information is written on joined pieces of buffalo hide.

            The Daughters meet every year at the winter solstice; every year they repaint the Piasa bird.

            But time ends all things – Snow Pine passes her leadership of the Daughters to Ming, who passes it to her daughter Cassie (named after Snow Pine’s ancient ancestor Cassandra). Cassie then gives the leadership role to Fawn Heart’s great-granddaughter Raven.

            Raven has a vision to go south to gather a crop of golden kernels, later called mahiz, that will sustain her people. She, her brother Wildcat and others head to (I assume) Mexico to gather maize. On the way they meet people both friendly and hostile. They rescue two children, a girl Mala and a boy He Looks Up, who were about to be sacrificed to the southern tribes’ god. Mala and He Looks Up are raised by the Trading People. He Looks Up brings his religion with him and it eventually takes over the Trading People’s lifestyle, changing it forever.

            This part of the story is one of the more shocking and unexpected plot twists and I will say no more for fear of spoiling a splendid turn in the tale.

            Note all this would still be in the “BCs” – Emperor Chin’in, a contemporary of Snow Pine and the reason she ended up with the Trading People, died in 210 BC; so three or four generations after that would still put us before the birth of Christ.

            A few chapters later, after we visit the storyline of the modern cast, we meet Forest Water and her daughter Timid Girl.  A strange visitor comes to the town. Could these be the strangers foretold by Snow Pine? Forest Water invites the stranger to her valley home. He rapes her. He is a Viking named Thornfield Skullsplitter. As she gets her revenge Forest Water is grateful that he is not of Snow Pine’s people.

            Some chapters later we meet Zhu Wen. He sails the world under the orders of Zheng He, an admiral during the Ming dynasty who sailed to east Africa and, some argue, landed on American shores. In Witches, Zhu Wen sails up the Mississippi River until he gets to the deserted mound city of Cahokia.

            Zheng He died in 1433, around the time of the end of the Cahokian Mound culture – the author did an excellent melding these facts together.

            He sees the Piasa and is shocked to spot a dragon from his own culture painted on a cliff face on the other side of the world. The White Buffalo Calf Woman named She Who Remembers spots his ship and knows Snow Pine’s people have finally returned as prophesied. She gives Zheng He Sun Kai’s journal and the buffalo hide of her coven, with fourteen hundred years of information. This finally answers a thread left from Flight – what happened to Sun’s journal and how did it get back to China?

 

            “Meanwhile” Daniel French’s story picks up ten years after the end of Flight – Daniel and Lauren are now married and have children. Both Daniel and Lauren are professors of archeology at SIU-Edwardsville, supervised by their former professor Fred Eldridge.

            Road construction unveils a pair of female skeletons from ancient times. Construction halts until the skeletons are examined. Eldridge sends Mr. & Mrs. French along with assistants Josh Green & Jenn Rauch. Unfortunately these two lovers have just joined the Creative Artifacts Society – an anarchic group of Luddites who bury false evidence at such construction and archeology sites to halt the destructive advance of society.

            The author makes no bones about the CSA’s villainy; their leader is a charmless terrorist who disappears quickly. I wonder if he will appear in the third book. Josh and Jenn plant an anachronistic buffalo hide amongst the finding at the construction site and the Frenchs and their friend, Jared Davidson, investigate. When they get too close, Josh and Jenn frame Jared for an attempted rape as their distraction. Eldridge must deal with the accusation and not only its affect on Davidson but on the department. Josh makes things more difficult by staging protests demanding Davidson’s removal from the university.

             More time is spent with Eldridge in this book – we meet his wife and learn a bit of his background – and we see more of him than the cynical curmudgeon from Flight. He still lectures and suffers no fools, but especially at the end, we see his love for his trade. You can hear the giddiness in his voice during his phone call to Daniel at the end of the book.  He goes to China at their invitation to examine a strange Buffalo hide the government has been keeping for quite some time…

            This presumably sets of the third book, but without doing it as a cliff-hanger.  If the story ended here, the reader would be satisfied.

 END OF SPOILERS

             There is foreshadowing of the next book, but it does not end in a cliffhanger. It ends the way stories end in life – some threads end (the CSA’s framing of Dr. Davidson, but not without consequences to Davidson, Josh or Jenn) and other threads begin (the Illini Confederation’s restraining order to stop any further investigation of the bodies found). I assume all these threads will be picked up and explored in the third book.

 

            Time was handled well – eventually, although as a reader it was frustrating at times. The readers know these women lived before the time of Christ as does their second and third generations, yet it seems as if the archeologists consider them part of the Cahokian Mount culture from a thousand years later. Only late in the book is something said about the time differences between the multiple generations of bodies found. A quick line earlier in the story (“…these could be from a thousand years earlier or more…”) would have helped that nagging criticism.

             Daniel and Lauren are just as likable as in Flight. They have aged and grown more confident in themselves and their skills as is expected. The growth in character of Eldridge is the most pleasant of all – we grow to respect his intelligence and authority rather than the somewhat-two-dimensional foil of Flight whose job seemed to be to consistently poo-poo anything Daniel had to say.  Note that Eldridge’s “two dimensionality” wasn’t as apparent while reading that first book. The impression the character made in Flight wasn’t necessarily the correct one. Then again, he wasn’t as central to that story as he is to Witches.

             New characters: Jared Davidson is a welcome addition and is written as a good and loyal friend. Josh is written as the smart-ass infallible know-it-all most college students are at that time in their lives (Daniel at that time in Flight was filled with doubt and less of a smart-ass, but he’s an exception). Jenn is a tool.

             I enjoyed Flight very much. I enjoyed Witches even more. It is a better book. The modern-day characters are given more to do than just be our guide to the story from the ancient past – they are given their own drama to allow their good and bad personalities a chance to be shown and to grow. Plus the epistolary style of the first book lends to a lack of immersion in the story, I think. Reading a “letter” – even an excellent one like Flight, in which the “letter” is a long narrative – is still reading a letter. That willing suspension of disbelief is harder to do than with a story set presently. You know the letter-writer will survive at least long enough to write the letter! In a current narrative, not so much. In fact, some of the deaths – whether naturally or at the hand of man (or woman or child) is sudden and shocking. I know we’re talking about fictional people who lived two thousand years ago, of course they are dead by now (and of course they never existed to die in the first place), but for the reader to be saddened even a little at their deaths – or be shocked when they are killed – shows good writing. We care what happens to them. The fact that the modern cast may have found their remains and their writing gives the reader a sense of closure.

             One last book in the trilogy is left. I’ll start it soon and hope to finish it before my Christmas “break” from reading (I always stop and read holiday fare between Thanksgiving and New Years – starting with A Christmas Carol, L Frank Baum’s Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, Tolkien’s Father Christmas Letters and whatever else strikes my fancy.

            I’ll definitely blog about the third book when finished.

             Support independent authors! Support local authors! Read their books! Tell others to read their books! Post positive comments online if you enjoy it! Please?

 Michael Curry