Cherokee Talisman – David Michael Harding

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.

CT 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.

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12 Responses to Cherokee Talisman – David Michael Harding

  1. Brian Joseph says:

    Sounds very interesting.

    The entire simplistic portrayal of the two sides is understandable in context of history but I too like complexity when it comes to novels.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Brian,

      It’s understandable if you write a purely historical novel. This one however is classified as historical fiction. After all, in “Winnetou” an Apache Indian and a white man become “blood brothers”, and in “The Last of the Mohicans” an Indian is the the negative character. Have you read any of these two novels?
      Anyway, perhaps the next book(s) in the series will bring more complexity to the story.

      • Brian Joseph says:

        Sad to say I have not read those books but I do want to.

        Not a novel but I highly Recommend “Empire of the Summer Moon” by S. C. Gwynne. It is the story of Comanches and European conflict. It is not just a chronicle as it centers on a few individuals particularly Quanah Parker, the last great Comanche leader.

        • Delia says:

          Thanks for the recommendation, Brian. I’ve added the book to my TBR list.
          I haven’t seen a copy of Winnetou since the first time I read it, but I would very much like to re-read it again and see if I like the story just as much.

  2. Vishy says:

    Nice review, Delia! Glad to know that you liked some aspects of the book, though you didn’t love the book. It is nice to know that though the story was slow in the beginning the pace picked up in the last quarter of the book. It is sad that the plot and the character depictions are simplistic, but like you have said hope that the further books in the series are more subtle and complex. I love the name Tsi’yugunsini – it looks like a tongue twister. I haven’t read ‘Winnetou’, but hope to, one of these days, if I am able to get hold of a copy. I have read ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ and loved it. I want to read it again sometime. Thanks for this interesting review!

    • Delia says:

      Hi Vishy,

      According to the author, Tsi’yugunsini was a hard name to pronounce and that’s why it’s not that famous, but he was a real person. I wonder what his name really sounded like. Probably nothing like the way I try to say it. 🙂
      Winnetou was an amazing book. I hope you’ll read it one day.

  3. Caroline says:

    Another Winnetou fan! You’re the first person I know how liked those books as well.
    I have a huge Karl May collection. Not all, he was very prolific, but a lot. He’s a great story teller.
    Too bad this didn’t work for you.
    Do you like Tony Hillerman?

    • Delia says:

      You mean you know other people who read those books but didn’t like them?
      Ah, that sounds so great, an entire collection! I wonder why Winnetou is not in print anymore, at least I haven’t seen it… I really loved that book. Funny enough I have seen The Last of the Mohicans everywhere.
      Maybe my expectations were too high. Sometimes it happens.
      I’m not familiar with Tony Hillerman.

  4. TBM says:

    This one sounds promising, however the lack of character development is a concern. It’s so hard reading something when you don’t have a strong connection with many or any of the characters. Even the bad guys. I love to hate the bad guys.

    • Delia says:

      Yes, I find it hard to really enjoy a book if I don’t feel any connection with a character (at least one!). But the novel seems to have quite a few glowing reviews on Goodreads so I guess what didn’t work for me worked quite well for other readers.

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