This is a sprawling Western epic that finishes in the Comancheria area of Texas in the years following the Civil War. Parts of the book start out in other locales in the pre-war years, such as Baltimore, Mississippi, and New Orleans, as the many characters leave their homes and make their way to Texas, willingly or not. Among them are Knobby Cotton, escaped slave, and his wife Elizabeth; Rudolph Hermann, German immigrant; twins Charles and Alexander Speer, who fought on opposite sides of the Civil War; Two Talks, Comanche leader; and Dorsey Murphy, captured by Two Talks’ band while crossing the plains. Gideon Jones, an orphan-turned-undertaker, isn’t quite the main character, but as he is the focus of the first and last scenes, and extracts from his journal begin many of the chapters, he is the thread that ties the many subplots together.
Coincidences are many, the violence graphic, the sex unromantic. Wier’s attempts at rendering non-English dialogue, inserting foreign words at odd places, aren’t very successful. I thought the book sprawled a bit too much, and I had to refer to the author’s list of 17 major characters many times in order to keep everyone straight. Some of those characters met disappointing fates, while other outcomes were more satisfying. Still, I was caught enough to want to keep reading and find out what happened to everyone. The most successful and absorbing parts are those dealing with Knobby and Elizabeth’s plight as runaway slaves, and the detailed scenes of life among the Comanche.