I really enjoyed reading Drood by Dan Simmons last year.I chose to listen to his latest book, Black Hills, in audio format.
Black Hills is the name of the Lakota protagonist as well as the area in South Dakota where much of the story is based. In 1876, Paha Sapa (Lakota for Black Hills) is an 11 year old boy. It is also the time of the Battle of Little Big Horn. Paha Sapa counts coup for the first time. The wasichu (white man) he chooses to touch just happens to be General Custer. Custer's ghost or spirit jumps to Paha Sapa where he stays for over 60 years.
Paha Sapa is able to see the future. What he sees is the construction of Mount Rushmore - a feat that will desecrate the sacred Black Hills. In 1936 Paha Sapa is a dynamite man on the construction site of Rushmore. He has devoted his life to reclaiming the Hills and intends to destroy the carvings on the day that Roosevelt visits the site.
Simmons' research skills are exceptional. His attention to detail is remarkable. When I was reading Drood, I went to the computer many times to look up a detailed event or scene. With an audio book, it's much harder to do that. I learned quite a bit of the history surrounding Crazy Horse, Custer and this time period through listening to Black Hills. On the flip side, sometimes the amount of detail bogged the story down for me. I found the main reader Erik Davies did an amazing job of relaying the Lakota/Sioux words. But again, I found myself not listening when the same word had been used repeatedly in a chapter. Davies did an excellent job of portraying an adult Paha Sapa with his voice. I found the child voice annoying, but that's just a small picky point.
Michael McConnohie provided the voice for Custer. McConnohie has a rich, full, expressive voice, really a great reader's voice. So I enjoyed his narration, but wow - I really didn't like Custer at all. Simmons' bias towards Custer is quite plain. Our initial introduction to him is quite awkward. His story is told as a series of letters to his wife Libby. They all being with 'Do you remember.." The main thrust of Custer's letters are of a sexual nature as he remembers times with Libby. Quite frankly I found them incredibly tawdry and indeed fast forwarded through them after listening to two.
Somewhat disconcerting was the timeline. The story would switch from the 1870's and then to the 1930's in the next chapters. Many details are revealed, such as Paha Sapa's wife's death, before he has even met her.
Black Hills is classic Simmons length at twenty one hours of listening. Mid way I found my interest flagging. The last quarter picked up for me, but what I expected to be the ending was not the ending. He finishes up with a thought provoking finish, Simmons style.
As one who thoroughly enjoyed the narrative dimensions of Simmons's "Terror", I was not disappointed when I took up his latest novel, "Black Hills", the account of a young Sioux on a life-long mission to find himself. Wide in scope, fascinating in description of history, and mysterious in its probing of the human psyche, this book has it all. Set in three different places at three different times in late 19th century America, "Black Hills" weaves an incredible story about how a young, super-intelligent Sioux warrior comes to grip with his prophetic gift to foretell and shape his destiny. Each phase of Paha Sapa's peculiarly puzzling life comes with a set of personal challenges that he must overcome in order to understand who he is. Complicating matters is the fact that he has acquired an incubus along the way in the form of the late General Custer. This evil spirit is constantly goading him to pursue the warrior instincts that will invariably end in the destruction of his people. In the latter years of his life, as he wanders far from his birthplace - the Black Hills - in search of his birthright or personal identity, Paha Sapa becomes directly involved in the construction of Mount Rushmore, potentially the greatest monument to the humiliation of the Sioux nation. As someone who has over many years been drawn into the whiteman's world by various beguiling forces, this moment of architectural achievement becomes the critical point in his life. Like the biblical Samson of old, he has a choice to make that will determine his place in history. To that end, Simmonds does a marvellous job in preparing the reader for that climax. Simmons includes a lot of helpful Lakota mysticism and mythology to help the reader understand that this tale has very strong supernatural implications: a life-long war going on inside the tortured soul of a very noble and courageous character. I recommend this novel to anyone who likes historical fiction that brings character, setting, and history together in an almost magical context.Read more ›
When I had the chance to read and review this book, I was excited. I'd just finished Drood by this author and loved it. I wasn't sure what the Black Hills was about but the author's storytelling style is so great that I just knew I would find the topic interesting. Nevertheless, before I said yes to the review, I did some research to find out more. It turned this novel couldn't have been more different from Drood! To be capable of writing on two such diverse topics and in such an in-depth style just solidifies my certainty that Dan Simmons is one great writer.
Black Hills is not only a place in the Dakotas but also a person, Paha Sapa, a young Lakota boy growing into manhood who witnesses the changes to his home as North America moves inexorably into the twentieth century. Progress, which often doesn't translate into a good thing, can't be stopped. Black Hills, the place and the person, shows how a people cope and sometimes how they don't.
It took me about fifty pages before I started really getting into the story but after that the plot became very interesting. There is one scene where the characters are caught in a huge dust storm and the manner in which the author described it made me feel like I needed to spit grit out of my own mouth. The narrative is well-written (which is something I was taking for granted even before I started reading given how Drood was written) and the imagery breath-taking. The story goes back and forth in time following the main character's experiences with his tribe, General George Armstrong Custer and other military and native warriors, as well as at Chicago's World Fair in the late 1800's, and other settings. I'm amazed at the amount of research the author must have done to get just the right sense of authenticity to make the story work. The rituals of Native Americans of the Sioux tribe are described with striking beauty and sensitivity.
I don't think I would have picked up this book on my own, but now I'm so glad I did read it. I learned much and enjoyed a great story at the same time. In the end it's just what I expected to experience with this author. I'm a confirmed 'Simmonite'! I highly recommend Black Hills to anyone who enjoys American history or, for that matter, just a really good story.Read more ›