Swimming with Serpents

Written by Sharman Burson Ramsey
Review by Bethany Latham

As an Alabama native who’s visited Horseshoe Bend and knows descendants of William Weatherford, I was interested in this novel about the Creek War of 1813-1814. Unfortunately, I was to be disappointed.

Shakespeare-quoting Choctaw “half-breed” Lysistrata Cassandra Rendel (sister of Lancelot Arthur Rendel) tirelessly pursues her “star-crossed” love, Cade Kincaid. After tricking him into marriage, the two are separated when he runs off to save Fort Mims (near present-day Mobile, AL) from the Red Sticks. Plot devices prevent him, and the massacre of the fort’s inhabitants (at least 250 men, women, and children) is the stuff of history. To ask if he and his love survive to be reunited and live happily ever after would be rhetorical.

If editing was performed, it’s not evident: there are multiple typos as well as simple mistakes (e.g., a character mounting a horse, then a repeat of the same action a few sentences later). The prose and dialogue are regrettable. The result is an uneven mix of tiresome family genealogy, Disney movie (the heroine has multiple animal “friends” who assist her), and clumsy romance.

Fictional characters are interspersed with historical ones, but none are convincingly drawn. Love scenes are painful and awkward, but thankfully few. If there’s an area where the novel succeeds, it’s portraying the melding of European and Native American society – William Weatherford (aka Red Eagle) was of mixed Creek, Scots, and French background, as were many who fought in this conflict. They intermarried seamlessly and lived almost dually; Weatherford owned a plantation, slaves, and racehorses he was renowned for breeding. Yet he took up the war club (as well as Spanish firearms) and led a massacre that included some of his own brother’s family. This was a Native American civil war which morphed into a fight against American encroachment and loss of Creek lands and traditions, and the novel does successfully drive this point home.