Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review: Black Hills by Dan Simmons

Heavy, in every sense of the word, but worthy of its heft.

Summer 1876 - Battle of Little Big Horn. Paha Sapa, young Black Hills, is ten years old. He is at the Battle, not as a warrior, as he wants to be a holy man when he grows up, but he gets caught up in the moment and decides to run at an enemy as part of his coming of age or count coup. He touches an enemy soldier at the moment of his death. The enemy he touches his people call Long Hair, and is known to the rest of history as General George Armstrong Custer. The soul of General Custer is released and Paha Sapa believes the soul enters into his body, where he continues to exist for decades to come.

That same year, Paha Sapa goes into the sacred Black Hills on his vision quest, during which he has a dream that four great stone heads rise up out of the stone, and the death of his people's culture. He is told by the Six Grandfathers that it is his destiny to destroy the four heads in the stone, representative of four Wasicun (white men) representative of the destruction of the Natural Free Beings way of life.  This stone mountain is also known as Mount Rushmore. Paha Sapa sees into the future for the first time, but not the last.

Between his tenth year and his final year, the book follows Paha Sapa through several major events in American History and his place in them. He rides Ferris's Great Wheel, he plays a part in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, goes to the Chicago World's Fair, lives through the 1930's Dust Bowl, runs from Crazy Horse, and finally ends up working as a powder man, the chief dynamite blaster, at Mount Rushmore. He can, in one act, on the day of FDR's visit to the South Dakota site, destroy Mount Rushmore, and reclaim his people's honor.

I have to be honest.  I almost gave up on Black Hills when General Custer began spewing his pornographic memoirs about his time with his wife, Libby.  I got through them as mere interruptions to Paha Sapa's greater story, which was suspenseful, interesting, and, dare I say, educational. 

I expected something very different from Black Hills, since I first saw it in the bookstore in the Horror section.  I wouldn't consider this novel as a tale of horror.  Instead, I would classify it as historical fiction, with a touch of the supernatural.  What I found most interesting is how all of these people in history truly do intersect at such a pivotal time in the American West.  I love when authors take the mysteries of a historical figure's life and turn them into a page-turning story, but what Dan Simmons managed to do is take an osbcure historical figure and use him as the axis around which all these other famous people orbit.

Black Hills is not a light read, nor is it for the light-hearted.  It's a heavy book, and time consuming, but one worth reading.  It's scale intimidated me, so I put off reading it, but I am so glad that I did.

For More:
Dan Simmon's Official Website

I read Black Hills as part of the Reagan Arthur Challenge, hosted by Kathy/Bermuda Onion & Julie/Booking Mama.   Thanks to Reagan Arthur for sending me a copy of Black Hills for review.

Next Up:  Next by James Hynes

About the Book:
Black Hills: A Novel by Dan Simmons
Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books; 1 edition (February 24, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 031600698X
ISBN-13: 978-0316006989


Greg Zimmerman said...

This keeps sounding better and better with every new review. I've still never read Simmons at all, but Black Hills, Drood and The Terror all seem so good - if you are able to clear your literary calendar for a few weeks! Great review!

Alison's Book Marks said...

Greg, thanks for stopping by! The Black Hills sat on my desk for a while before I motivated myself to pick it up. The weight of the hardcover is an advertisement for the Kindle. Still - worth it. The only thing I would change would be the weird erotic narratives by General Custer. They didn't fit, or I didn't get it. Maybe I should ask Dan Simmons...

Julie P. said...

I'm intimidated by the size of this one! I did love DROOD though.

bermudaonion said...

I'm glad to see the book's worth reading! Julie added your review to the Reagan Arthur Books Challenge blog.

Fence said...

This was my first Simmons' book, and I'm so glad I picked it up. It isn't a quick read, but perfect if you are in the mood for a careful read, with so much going on.

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