This is the tale of an Apache warrior, a young woman, on the border between Arizona and Mexico in the late 19th century. It’s filled with battles, death, torture and mutilation as the Apache tribes fight to defend their land against the Mexicans and the ever-encroaching white Americans.
Yet this isn’t a battle book, offering thrilling descriptions of combat. (Although you’re never in any doubt about that awful things that happen, the book never lingers on them.) It’s about a way of life, of surviving in a harsh landscape, of trying to understand the insatiable desire of the White Eyes to own the land the Apache have always seen as something to be shared by all.
It’s written in words that sound close to those I’ve read from Native Americans of the time. “I was glad of it.” “I will ask the women which is the seventh day.” “It was not trade alone that drew the warriors forth.” At first this put me off; it’s not the way we speak today and the words don’t trip off the tongue. Yet as the story continues, the more you settle into its particular style and the more you realise that it’s the voice of another culture. A different culture. To have written it in today’s looser, less formal English would have made the Apache seem more like us, when one of the points of the book is that they weren’t.
And it’s why, as the story progresses, you increasingly identify with them. It makes you see the world through their eyes and mourn what’s being taken from them. Years of Hollywood westerns have made me see the Apache as nothing but a cruel, savage people. This great book is a welcome antidote to all that. One of my favourites of the year.