Friday, May 23, 2014

My review of Pride of the Mohicans! Absolutely wonderful reading!

Truly outstanding cover art by Laura Givens
I suppose from the title of this review that my admiration for this release is obvious. To be completely aboveboard about things, I am a huge fan of the Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper. They were some of my earliest exposures to the classics. The Last of the Mohicans was my favorite of the tales, and I've been pining away about the death of Uncas since I was a teen. Moreover, I've been desperately hoping for more entries in the universe featuring one of my favorite trios. When I saw that White Rocket Books was releasing exactly what I had wanted, for all these years (and getting top flight authors, namely Jim Beard, Ron Fortier, Frank Schildiner, and I. A. Watson to offer their takes on the characters), I literally jumped out of my chair and danced a jig! Thank you, all (and of course editor Van Allen Plexico) for making this happen! For those not in the know, Pride is set in 1756, during the French and Indian War in the American Colonies. Our protagonists are Chingachgook (father and adopted father of the next two men, and last chief of the Mohican tribe), Uncas (his son, and the last Mohican, other than his father), and Nathaniel Poe (adopted son and brother, also known as Hawkeye, among other names). The trio are bound to the land, and to each other. Despite this, they risk themselves to help the common people, and their allies (by treaty) the British. I'll skip my usual synopsis, and just review these tales as they were told. *Minor Spoiler Alert* Here are their adventures...

We start out with 'From Within', by Jim Beard, in which we find Hawkeye up a tree, and not liking the situation one bit. The trio have been ambushed by a large hunting party of braves, his father and brother press-ganged, and Hawkeye himself beaten senseless. The main purpose of the hunting party was to swell the ranks of the Indians supporting the French army. After coming to, and thinking things out, Hawkeye fetches a French speaking trapper (so he may parlay with those that have taken his family), and sets out on their trail. Thus, we come to the tree which he does not want to be in, which is overlooking the camp of the kidnappers, and Hawkeye is not liking what he sees. Too many warriors between himself and his family. Hawkeye attempts to parlay, and is almost murdered. Fleeing, so as to remain free to rescue his family, his opportunity eventually comes. He is shocked, at first, that his father and brother choose to remain with their captors. They have come up with a plan to convince the braves to stop supporting the French, and it can only be accomplished from within their ranks... What can I say about Jim's entry? Oh, yeah... this author is just becoming more and more amazing, with every new story of his that I read. His description of the setting is spot-on; the frenzy of Hawkeye, after being separated from his family, is heartfelt. The plan, to save as many as possible, despite the possible consequences, is EXACTLY what Chingachgook would do. The story is well crafted, the tragedy prophetic (within the story and in the future), both for our heroes and the Native American population, as a whole, and the acceptance by the trio of the outcome, both heartbreaking, and representative of the characters. This is a heck of a story, and an absolute pleasure to read! Do yourself a favor, look up Jim Beard's name, find his books, buy them and enjoy! He just keeps getting better, and better... The man is a talent, and I thank him for giving me a piece of something I craved for two decades...

Next up we have 'Red Blizzard' by Ron Fortier. I've admired Ron's work for some time, both in the comic book field and in the New Pulp genre (point of fact, his publishing house turned me on to the New Pulp genre, for which I must add an extra THANKS). When I saw his name attached to this release, I immediately knew I was in for a good story. Ron definitely did not disappoint... We open with Hawkeye tracking a deer through heavy snowfall; his father and brother are on separate hunts, foraging for food. He is almost killed when he is ambushed by a group of Mohawk braves, striking at him under the cover of the storm. Fighting them off, the last live Mohawk brave and Hawkeye are carried away, as the wet snowfall gives way and they tumble down a ravine. As he loses consciousness, he sees three more braves making there way down the path towards him. Coming to under the ministrations of Chingachgook, he realizes his father and brother have saved him from his fate. After a bit of recuperation, the trio hasten to the village of their allies, the Delawares, to warn them of the Mohawk war party. After a harrowing trek, including a running battle between the trio and the Mohawks, they reach their destination. Warning their friends, they find that all is not right. The primary student of the tribe's medicine man has stolen away the bride to be of the chief's son. With the Mohawk looming, the village can no longer spare any manpower to search for the runaways. Our trio, naturally, volunteers to take up the search, and has no objection about the chief's son being included in the search. Possibly Chingachgook has a plan (as always), and possibly Hawkeye and Uncas can help this plan come to fruition... if they can survive the blizzard, the Mohawks, and the love-lorn son of the chief. As I've said above, I greatly admire Ron's storytelling, and this entry is no exception to that rule. A master of his craft, he demonstrates his agility with the written word throughout this entry. Opening with Hawkeye's hunt, he quickly throws us into the chaos of the ambush. Leaving us believing, in the aftermath (along with his protagonist, from his point of view), that Hawkeye is done for, he instead reunites the family... The running battle between our the heroes and the Mohawks, was particularly exciting, and just when you might think this is all about the action side of things... he introduces a new plot element, and pretty much takes you through the classic "Hero's Journey" in the small amount of space contained within this short story (naturally, I'm not talking about our trio, they are already fully formed heroes). Chingachgook's visions, and his overall reasoning about how things will end, for the Native Americans is both poignant, and of course, born out by history. Ron manages to convey all these themes within such a limited space, and I must take my hat off to him. Thank you, SIR, for this history of the wanderings and deeds of some of my favorite characters! You totally captured the essence of Chingachgook, Hawkeye, and Uncas, and for that I thank you most wholeheartedly!

The third tale in this collection is 'Test of Bravery' by Frank Schildiner. Of the four authors contributing to this collection, Frank is the only one that I was unfamiliar with... I have to say, after reading through his story, that I will need to rectify this as soon as possible! His tale fitted in seamlessly with the other three, and I greatly admired his entry, and the journey that he sent our heroes on. While following their own path, the family is drawn to a recently raided enclave of settlers by the smell of the burning settlement. Enduring the initial fears and hostile reaction of the devastated settlers, they slowly win over the people of the town, and manage to draw out the details of the raid. The raiders are identified as Mohawks, but the tribal council of the Iroquois League of Six Nations (including the Mohawk tribe) has made peace with the British, and has pledged not to harm the influx of settlers. Renegades are suspected by Chingachgook, but Hawkeye still has doubts about the identities of those behind the raid... something isn't quite right. Volunteering to find out who, exactly, is behind the slaughter, the trio enter their blood-enemies home territory... the tribe that they must now call ally, due to the recent treaty of the Iroquois Nation. They will be treated with surprising respect, by many... and endure treachery from a few. One of our heroes will undergo a true test of bravery (and they will all experience a test of their restraint, and of letting go of the past), but will he survive? Frank's story is gripping, and I rushed through it at break-neck speed. Although lacking some of the nonstop action of the first two tales, the story is enthralling with it's premise of having our band of heroes meet their blood-enemies, but under a flag of truce (and don't fret, the action is there, Frank just takes time to explore other elements of the situation). The theme of not vilifying an entire people for the actions of a few individuals is greatly appreciated. Hatred, of different types, is explored delicately within this story, and it is made all the better by this exploration. A really top-notch entry, by an excellent author... I need to go out and find other examples of Frank's work, I really do! You guys should too, just saying...

The final entry in the collection is 'Fort of Skulls' by I. A. Watson. I was already a fan of the author, due to his work on Zeppelin Tales and the Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective series, and looked forward to a well written tale. Suffice it to say, I. A. gave me that, and much more! We open with the trio acting as couriers for General Webb, of the British army. Coming across a floundering detachment of British soldiers, who have gotten their supply wagon stuck at a ford, they decide to offer their help. After enduring a rather close scrutiny from the soldiers, the unit's Captain quickly orders the three men to help them get to their destination. Working as army scouts, the three decide to acquiesce to the Captain's order. The group is charged with reinforcing the garrison at Fort Woburn, due to losses from French snipers. Hawkeye learns that the previous pathfinders have deserted in the night and this, along with friction between the trio and individual soldiers, is not a good sign for the coming journey. After arriving at their destination, they find the fort deserted, with no signs of why the garrison has left their post (harks back to the mystery of Roanoke). When the new batch of soldiers start disappearing (and worse), one by one, the pressure is ratcheted up. The remaining men start turning on one another, and still the mystery of Fort Woburn remains unsolved... The incorporation of mystery elements, and horror into this rather excellent tale rather demonstratively pushes it over the top. The action comes about in the last act, and until that point, you instead feel a sense of wondering dread. As more men vanish, our companions are left with few clues to solve the mystery, and you begin to wonder if it's beyond them... It doesn't help that their allies begin fracturing under the pressure of the events. I. A. has written an absolutely enthralling tale, melding adventure, mystery, and horror together in perfect measures. The story was all I expected, and more, and I was totally blown away. The last act was something to see, indeed! I'll give you guys two hints (spelled as they are in the story)... Miscatonic Valley, and whip-poor-whil. A rather outstanding end to a wonderful collection! I highly recommend this entry to anyone who loves well written tales of adventure, fans of the characters, and to readers in general! This was a true pleasure to read, and I hope you pick it up, and enjoy Pride of the Mohicans as much as I did! As usual, happy reading, and ta!

Here's the publisher's website. By all means, take a look. Here's the books Amazon page. Here's Jim's blog and here's his FB fan page. You can catch up with what I. A. has going on here. You can peruse all things Ron (and find some dang good reads from other authors, as well) here. And here's a good interview with Frank (not mine), where you can find out more about him.

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