I’m going to hold Peyote Fire: Shaman of the Canyons, by Mary S. Black to very high standards due to this being a historical sub-genre that is one of my favorites. It’s probably not going to be easy for any author to compare to Jane Auel and Sue Harrison, best-selling authors of the prehistoric genre, or Kathleen O’Neal Gear and her husband W. Michael Gear, with their numerous First Peoples/Native American novels. They are some of my favorite authors and my expectations are high.
Peyote Fire isn’t a long or lengthy epic, which is good for readers of today, who want to pick up a book from this genre without making a huge commitment. However, Mary does pack a great amount of historical and archaeological detail into her book. I think that is the book’s strongest suit. Mary did an extensive amount of research of the Lower Pecos and the Native Americans who lived there. It was apparent that her research was the driving force behind her writing of the novel. For scholars or major readers of non-fiction, this book would fill their need for information and was presented in a way that made the absorption of the information more pleasurable.
On her website, Mary states:
The book is set about 4000 years ago in the area of the confluence of the Pecos River and the Rio Grande, bounded on the east by the Devil’s River. This region is known for more 300 painted rock shelters and a famous bison jump site. Some of these places can be visited by the public today.
By using archeological reports and treatises written about the people of the Archaic Lower Pecos as a factual base for the story, I have tried to make descriptions of everyday life as accurate as possible, given what we know.
Mary truly delivered on her goals of discovering the area, bringing to life the rock shelters, the cliffs and topography of the area, and shamanism rituals. Her descriptions and details of the area seemed authentic. She brought to life for the reader a time and place that might otherwise be forgotten. Travelers to the area, or Texans, will love how this history has been brought to life. It was interesting to read of their group, or clan, structure since is was quite different than those here on the East Coast. Land was more harsh and life didn’t thrive as much, so it was a struggle to survive.
The mystery of these people and their rock shelter paintings, like the one featured below from Seminole Canyon State Park, is still being researched. Mary really gives us a view into how these people possibly lived, and worshiped. Watch the video taken from the State Park website for an idea about them; it’s an enthralling video!
In the reading the paperback of this book, and in being a history major/historian myself, I did enjoy her research and her details. However, as a read for entertainment, if that is what you seek, I wouldn’t sell it to you on that notion. It was formatted a little like a research paper, more than a book, and though she tried to make it a fiction read (based on the fact that her story was based on assumptions it had to be), her chapters started with numbers, the dialogue was too jilted, and the writing style too structured, to bring momentum and excitement for the every day reader that they might get within the pages of an epic or a saga like those of the aforementioned best-selling authors. I think as a writer she tried to “tell” us the story instead of “show” us in some places.
I didn’t personally care for the carefree sex in the book at all and I was shocked when it appeared in the way it did. To me, it just seemed overdone, for their ages, and especially in relation to what I know of other Native American tribes or prior stories I’ve read. I also didn’t like the overuse of the drugs and details of it, even in spirituality, and all the hallucinogens. Again, that might not be anything against her or her novel if this was authentic to their nature in that area, but I didn’t really like the portrayal. Possibly, she was trying too hard to make it entertaining, but for me, it didn’t work well and it didn’t adhere me to the characters. I wanted to read more about their struggles with the land and nature and their art and paintings.
I love that Mary took time to research these people and their area, especially since it’s the first novel to do so, and I really like reading novels of Native American culture, even mysteries. If you are interested in reading about First Peoples and their culture from the Lower Pecos, then you can give this a try in that regard. There aren’t many prehistoric novels on the market, so you can enjoy gleaning some of the history from this novel to get an idea in your mind of what their life might have been like, but it isn’t a sweeping epic. It’s an epic with a conflict driven plot that lacks depth, in my opinion.
I hope that with her next novel, Mary works with and grows her writing style in a way that will allow her readers a deeper connection with this amazing culture through more stabilized characters, because she has a great foundation of facts to work with and a good handle on description and details that allow for visuals, I just didn’t really care for the plot or the characters this time around.
*I was given a copy of this book in exchange for my honest views and opinions, which I’ve given.
Peyote Fire: Shaman of the Canyons, Synopsis~
Genre: Historical Fiction
Deer Cloud is painting the stories of the gods when tragedy changes his life. He is called to walk the shaman path and bring the buffalo through his visionary power. The evil Stone Face will do anything to thwart Deer Cloud’s growing strength. Jumping Rabbit, a lusty female shaman, decides to mentor him and ends up taking him to bed. She introduces him to a powerful spirit plant to counter the effects of the dangerous wolf flower. When buffalo are spotted, Stone Face challenges Deer Cloud to call the beasts with his new power. With Jumping Rabbit’s help, Deer Cloud changes Rain Bringer society forever.
This book brings to life people who lived over 4,000 years ago in the southwest Texas canyonlands known as the Lower Pecos, near the confluence of the Devils and Pecos rivers with the Rio Grande. These ancient people painted over 300 currently known rock art murals, some of which can be viewed today. Archaeologists have also found evidence of a huge bison jump in a small canyon in that region that points to a catastrophic event in the lives of these people so long ago. This book is based on extensive research and is the first novel to examine these events.
Author Mary S. Black, Biography~
She has an Ed.D. from Harvard University in Human Development and Psychology and lives in Austin with her husband, an archaeologist, and two cats.
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