When I read historical fiction, I want to be transported to a different world and different land. I was not disappointed with the Contact: The Battle for America trilogy. Written by husband and wife team W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear, the Contact series imagines the tumultuous times of Hernando de Soto’s attack on America’s native peoples– from their point of view.
Both authors have a background in archaeology and, based on the books’ forward and bibliography, did an amazing amount of research for the series and it shows. Coming of the Storm (Book 1) introduces readers to Black Shell an exiled Chicaza trader. Black Shell encounters the “Kristianos”-Spanish soldiers-and becomes enslaved by de Soto. He sees firsthand how the Kristianos enslave, kill and rape the indios. With the help of Pearl Hand, a woman he won through a wager, he escapes. As he feverishly fights a disease caught from the Spaniards, Black Shell is called by the spirits to fight, not just for his Chicaza nation, but for all the native tribes. In Fire in the Sky (Book 2), de Soto changes his tactics. Instead of using force and murder to obtain what his troops needs, he pretends to seek peace instead. Black Shell and Pearl Hand must change their tactics as well as convince other nations how dangerous de Soto is.
After reading all three books back to back, I find that each book is easy to follow and understand on its own. That being said, I thought A Searing Wind (Book 3) was the best. In the third and last book, Black Shell returns to Chicaza, the people who exiled him many winters ago. Black Shell fights not only the spirits to uphold his promise, but his family who never expected him to return. In this book, Black Shell’s character becomes even more multi-faceted. His emotions are in turmoil as he attempts to convince one of the proudest, fiercest nation that their old ways will not work with the Kristianos.
As I read the books, I knew that many battles were hopeless for the natives. Hernando de Soto left destruction and death in his path. I couldn’t help but continue reading. I rooted for Black Shell and his people.
The historical details about the native peoples way of life made me feel as I was sitting in the trees, watching it all in front of me. The description of the town square, spiritual rituals, even down to the symbolism of painted faces were fascinating. If you want a detail, close-up look of what life was like for Native Americans before the Europeans changed everything, these books are a must read.
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