Modern, reader-friendly historical fiction appears on bookstore shelves rarely of late, and even scarcer still is the inspiring, insightful breed of modern, reader-friendly historical fiction.
Fortunately, the new novel, “The Holy Road,” fits the category beautifully. The enchanting setting, timeless characters and heart-wrenching drama of the best-selling novel and critically acclaimed film, “Dances with Wolves” are resurrected in this wildly successful sequel to the masterpiece. Author Michael Blake, winner of an Academy Award in 1990 for his screen adaptation of “Dances with Wolves,” touches upon all the crucial elements once again as he delves deeper into the hearts of the Comanche people. His characters are realistic and admirable, his setting is breathtaking in its raw, untamed beauty and his well thought out plot is both complex and delightfully unpredictable.
Do not, however, expect another lengthy first person narrative of Plains American Indian culture and lifestyle from Blake’s newest work. The “Holy Road” differs from “Dances” in multiple aspects, with the most obvious being that it is told from an omniscient point of view, focusing less on a single individual and instead capturing the essence of the whole tribe of Ten Bears. The familiar characters are developed further, the new characters are introduced with flawless grace and no definitive central character is established through the course of the novel. Blake focuses on several characters as his protagonists, and their interwoven lives spin the fabric of the engaging storyline.
Eleven years after the events of “Dances with Wolves,” the Ten Bears people have settled into a content, secluded way of peace. The couple who are Anglo of ethnicity but Comanche in heart, Stands With A Fist and Dances With Wolves, have risen to a respectable standing in the village and their three children are raised in the Comanche tradition. Yet, the threat of the white man is a constant reminder that their quiet lives cannot go undisturbed forever and the growing unease in the village is palpable. All fears and suspicions are realized when a white ranger’s attack leaves the tribe in shambles, with half of the population murdered, the village burnt to the ground and Stands With A Fist and her youngest child were “rescued” and forced to return to the white civilization from which they originated.
The catastrophe is followed by similar events as the white man pushes further into Comanche lands with his “holy road” railroad, and the Ten Bears people are left stunned and confused, torn between their fierce desire to protect their way of life and the fear of an enemy which cannot be defeated.
Blake is a master at tugging at his readers’ emotions and his newest novel further establishes his skills as a writer. This versatile author has created a work that combines the action-packed thrills of modern fiction, the drama of a classic war novel and the suffering and tragedy of a people in agony. It offers no Hollywood happy ending, nor is there pink, fluffy padding for those who cannot handle the cruelties of history. Blake’s account of the Plains Native American people’s plight is raw and deeply emotional, with no room for excuses, only for grief.
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Hooked readers can look forward to a movie version of “The Holy Road” planned for Christmas 2002, adapted for the screen by the author. But more exciting still is the author’s statement that he has “always envisioned a trilogy” and will someday write a third book about Ten Bears people.
“The Holy Road” is the story of a vast, beautiful nation of proud people destroyed out of greed. It is the story of the American frontier given from the side of the defeated, a point of view often overlooked in history.
It is a historical novel, despite its small inaccuracies, that is fast-paced enough to appeal to the masses and insightful enough to reach to their hearts.