College students from an Oregon Indian reservation are kidnapped by a Shining Path splinter group in Peru. The Peruvian army is worse than unhelpful and the Indian tribe, as a sovereign nation within the United States, declares war on Peru. Other tribes join the non-traditional war along with a white police chief.
Here's a story of courage, today's wounds, history's tears, a deep friendship and the kind of heroism that the modern world thinks is gone or never was. There's a young woman with both strength and a lot of doubts. There's a lonely police chief who has to choose between laws and justice. There are real warriors and women who challenge propriety and dance rage and joy against anything that stifles.
I love it when I find a really fabulous book by an independent author. I know there are piles of books that aren't that great, full of mistakes and floppy plot. But I've hit a nugget once again in my rather random perusal of books. All through Cold River Rising, I kept saying out loud "Home run!" because there were scenes, emotions and issues that resonated and the author handled tough stuff well.
I have never said this before, so it isn't just that this is a book I personally like. I love all kinds of books (historical fiction, epic fantasy, futuristic dystopia and memoirs) and many of the things I love to read are very different from what I write. But this time I can safely say that I think readers who love The Kyrennei Series would get a kick out of this book. That isn't just because I like it. It's because of these things:
- Cold River Rising deals with emotion in a real and visceral way, much like The Kyrennei Series
- It deals with violence in much the same way, brutally and without any hint of weapons porn or glorification.
- It pulls at issues of social justice without ever dipping toward preaching or dogmatism at any point.
- It is primarily about a whopping good story while also including brain fodder that keeps you thinking and caring when you aren't reading.
- There is an element of people making justice when the authorities refuse to or are actually the perpetrators of injustice. We write in the hallowed tradition of Robin Hood.
- Oh, and it's partly set in Oregon--the Cold River Indian Reservation to be exact--and it gives an Oregonian the same rush of reality, knowing the landscape that The Soul and the Seed does.
This book has a truckload of great reviews (4.5 stars out of 5 on Amazon). It also has a few negative reviews and I almost didn't read it because I always read negative reviews first. That usually pays off but this time it was a bit misleading. Some of the reviews say there are a lot of errors in this book. Maybe there were back in 2011 when it was first published and maybe it has been edited since, but I didn't notice any mistakes as I read briskly through it. I could have missed a few minor things, but the point is that there aren't distracting mistakes for anyone who is more interested in story than ego.
There were a few negative reviews about graphic violence. And in some ways that's fair enough. There is graphic violence, but it is real and honest, not glorified and meant to titillate. It is there because it's the truth about the world and it's true to the story. That makes the violence worth reading. However, there are people who for reasons of youth or past-trauma might find it too much.
Then there is the fact that the book is about Indians. Mostly Native American reviewers seem to love this, even though the book was written by a white guy. He did reasonably well, according to the reviews, and I expect it took a mountain of research. But a few of the negative reviews mentioned an Indian leader giving an endangered eagle feather to the friendly white police chief, which is apparently wildly unrealistic culturally and highly illegal. The book I read didn't include anything like that. I suspect that this is a symptom of modern publishing in which a mistake can be caught and rectified after publication. So, it may be that the author did put in such a scene initially and then changed it based on legitimate complaints. I personally don't see anything dishonorable in this approach. It is very difficult to write about a culture other than your own (even difficult to please everyone when writing about your own culture). It requires massive research and making a change based on good feedback seems like a wise choice.
All in all, I have to say, author Enes Smith, that's a home run. It was a very fun read, not too heavy for me but then I can't stand things that are too light. I have to feel the thrum of passion, the echoes of social justice issues and some intense emotion for a book to hold my interest at all these days. Too much life going on otherwise.