t's the 1870's and the United States is about to start yet another war against the Plains Indians to clear them from their lands in the Dakotas. But one obscure Lakota chief called Touch-the-Clouds
has been having visions. Visions of a great leader who united tribes and conquered a mighty nation to the east.
, Seneca Indian, veteran of the Civil War and friend of the new commissioner of Indian Affairs, Ely Parker
, is sent west to try and discover what is going on out there on the plains. Touch-the-Clouds
is bringing the many tribes together, getting agreements that they not attack one-another, but save their wars for the whites moving west: To get them to keep the treaties...to get them to leave the Lakota and other tribes alone on their lands.
is being advised and helped by a Russian, formerly of the now sold Alaskan colony, Grigory Rubalev
, who seems to have his own hatreds of the United States - and his own plans for the Indians. But he has
identified the great leader in Touch-the-Clouds
Most "Indians Win" AH's are at best house-of-cards constructions and this one - while better than most - is no different. So if I told you I had problems galore with the history in this book, you'd probably not be surprised. But If I told you it doesn't make a darn bit of difference to the story
, you might be.
Pamela Sargent is an excellent writer. I found the characters all to be believable, their actions all made sense, given the circumstances, and the book is just a darn good read.
But the AH - Oy!
To begin with, the actual POD is at best diffuse. It seems
to be set back a few years prior to the events of the story (Crazy Horse, for example, seems to have a different wife on this ATL, which led to Touch-the-Clouds not
having to save his life because of his OTL wife's ex). But other events change as well, most notably Grant steps out in front of a carriage and dies in the middle of his term (Schuyler Colfax becomes President).
But the actual
difference seems to be that visions are
real, and can convey useful information.
Sargent realizes that in order to have any chance of winning, the Indians have to face a much reduced enemy. And she arranges things so that rebellion breaks out in the South again (Colfax is a lot more heavy handed with them than Hayes would have been), Texas and California break away as "autonomous republics," and eventually much of the U.S. is in some form of rebellion (hey, maybe she read "Point of Divergence #18's" Editorial Divergence).
So, much of the army is busy putting down those rebellions - and much of the rest is unsure just whose
orders they should be obeying.
I just can't bring myself to believe this, though. The U.S. falls apart entirely
too easily (I especially can't see California just breaking off like it does. The vast majority of its population was very
pro-Union). Rebellions just seem to break out here and there for no real reason (though it is
the time of the great Railroad Strike, I admit).
OTOH, while the Indians win their territorial integrity by the end of the book (and the United States has become more of a NATO-style alliance than anything else) I do admire that she's left the future more or less undecided. That the Indians will keep their freedom is not a given and many of the Indians are upset with all the changes they had to make - all the things they had to lose
- to win this war. It's pretty much going to be such that if the Indians do
keep their freedom, their culture(s) are going to change at least as much as if they don't.
But anywho, it's a great story. So put your disbelief-suspenders on "high" and read the book.