30 July, 2010

(Audiobook) Review - Black Hills by Dan Simmons


I have to start out this review with a bit of a disclaimer. I was not completely sold on the premise of this book.

I'm first and foremost a science fiction, fantasy, and the occasional classic or Economics book reader and less a historical fiction reader. I did know that Dan Simmons gets good reviews and when I won this audiobook I figured I'd give it a try.

With that in mind, let's move forward. :)
When Paha Sapa, a young Sioux warrior, "counts coup" on General George Armstrong Custer as Custer lies dying on the battlefield at the Little Bighorn, the legendary general's ghost enters him - and his voice will speak to him for the rest of his event-filled life. Seamlessly weaving together the stories of Paha Sapa, Custer, and the American West, Dan Simmons depicts a tumultuous time in the history of both Native and white Americans. Haunted by Custer's ghost, and also by his ability to see into the memories and futures of legendary men like Sioux war-chief Crazy Horse, Paha Sapa's long life is driven by a dramatic vision he experienced as a boy in his people's sacred Black Hills. In August of 1936, a dynamite worker on the massive Mount Rushmore project, Paha Sapa plans to silence his ghost forever and reclaim his people's legacy-on the very day FDR comes to Mount Rushmore to dedicate the Jefferson face.
I know it's not the most fair way to review a book, but I really wasn't drawn to this story at first and that's why I figured it would be at least somewhat fair to explain myself. I will have you know that due in part to Black Hills (2010) [US] [UK] and also in part to Alec's recommendation, I now own Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion

 Stupid rambling over. 

Reading the book (as opposed to the audiobook) in the case of Black Hills would have been all but impossible for me. There are so many Lakota (aka Sioux) words that I really appreciated having someone read them to me with what sounded like a pretty good accent. On that note, the narrators both did a great job. Erik Davies read the majority of the novel as Paha Sapa, the main character, while Michael McConnohie did the much less involved voice of General Custer. 

Erik Davies handles the intense vocabulary quite well, and both narrators pull off very believable characters. Jumping not only back and forth between Paha Sapa and General Custer's ghost residing within Paha Sapa, the narrative takes us from Paha Sapa's past as a Lakota to his future working on Mount Rushmore as a dynamite worker and back and forth and in between. 

Paha Sapa, we learn, is actually a unique Lakota name that means Black Hills and which is the area not only that is sacred to the Lakota, but later on where Mount Rushmore is erected. 

Even though the narrative jumps around in time quite a bit, there is still a big enough connection between the people and places that it is anything but as confusing as it sounds. As the Goodreads blurb above states, it's quite seamless. 

The first problem I had was that every time we hear from General Custer, at least at first, all he talks about is his sexual escapades with his wife Libbie. I don't know what it is, maybe I've become an old fogey, but I really thought this was completely pointless and unnecessary. 

It also doesn't help that I just really can't take when a historical figure, no matter how controversial, is displayed in a light that didn't seem reasonable. I can't believe that ALL Custer thought about was sex especially with how high he rose in his career. But, maybe I just don't know the military well enough. :) 

At one point, later in the novel, Custer actually brings up an interesting, non-sexual point regarding the fate of Native Americans. He says, and I'm paraphrasing, given the what we can all consider terrible fate of many Native Americans at the hands of the whites, without the whites, the Native Americans would have continued to war among themselves. Hinting at a possibly worse fate. I thought this was an interesting way to look at one positive of a terrible part of our history. 

Paha Sapa learned early in his life that he is not a warrior and so struggles not only with his inability to be like the majority of Lakota, but with upholding his tribe's legacy. 

  When Should You Read Black Hills? 

While Black Hills was well-written and interesting at times, plus incredibly well-researched - it's made me want to take a trip to the Black Hills and visit Mount Rushmore, I was bored through quite a bit of the story. But, as I said at the beginning, this wasn't really a book that was for me. 

If it sounds like something you'd be interested in, I'm sure you'll really enjoy Black Hills, I know Jason Baki did

3 out of 5 Stars


ediFanoB said...

I look forward to read Black Hills. It is on my books to read until the end of 2010 list like Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion.
So far I read and enjoyed Terror and Drood by Dan Simmons.

Anyway we can't like every book ;-)

Bryce L. said...

I think you'll like it. I can't say I didn't like it and the writing of course was superb, but the whole story just wasn't completely for me. I still need to pick up The Terror and Drood.

Samantha said...

Goodness, there is a lot of worthwhile info above!