Karl May’s Winnetou was a book I loved as a teenager. It was probably the first book about the Wild West that I read and it was followed by The Inca Treasure by the same author and The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. So when I was asked to review Cherokee Talisman I was really looking forward to reading it.
A struggle for land – the Native Americans who tried to keep it and the white men who tried to take it away – this is the idea that forms the base of the story. An important figure among the former, Totsuhwa, the great shaman of the Cherokee, was raised by the famous chief Tsi’yugunsini. He grew up a witness to his adoptive father’s efforts to keep the Cherokee tribes united while at the same time trying to navigate the slippery path of the negotiations with the white invaders. Negotiations that always ended up with the Cherokee losing land in exchange for horses and silver.
The story incorporates well-known elements about the life of Native Americans – a reverence for the land and the food it gives, never taking more than was necessary, the lessons they tried to teach their young, fasting and visions, their weakness for whiskey and of course taking trophies in battle the scalps of enemies. Short anecdotes about the origins of plants and a unique way of seeing things give this book a depth that the characters lack. At times I felt like the story was not going anywhere, that not much was happening. It was only in the last quarter of the book that things started to pick up and something really did happen which propelled things forward at a fast pace. From that point I liked the book better. The end left me somewhat intrigued – picture the hero riding out into the sunset – and considering this is the first book in a series, it is a rather fitting way to leave the reader hungry for more.
My major issue was with the characters – I couldn’t really connect with any of them, it felt like not enough details were given in order to get to know them better. Or better said, some of them died too soon. Or if they didn’t die, they did something that made me dislike them – one of those moments was when a young Cherokee avenged the death of a loved one by sneaking out in the middle of the night and cutting the throat of the murderer while the said murderer was bound and tied to a tree. While I had not issues with why, I did have some with how.
It is safe to say this book was a mixed bag for me – from the very clear Native Americans= good, white men = bad distinction which made the story a little too clear cut for my taste, to the unexpectedly funny scene where things get lost in translation at the negotiations table, there were things I liked and some that I liked less. It took me a while to finish the novel – that was due partly to the formatting of the text (I read it in E-book format), and to the fact that I’m still getting used to reading from a screen.
I got a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.