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The Color of Lightning: A Novel Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 31, 2009

121 customer reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

The author of Stormy Weather and Enemy Women returns with a lively exploration of revenge, dedication and betrayal set mainly in Kentucky and Texas near the end of the Civil War. Britt Johnson is a free black man traveling with a larger band of white settlers in search of a better life for his wife, Mary, and their children, despite the many perils of the journey itself. After a war party of 700 Comanche and Kiowa scalp, rape and murder many of the whites, Mary and her children get separated from Britt and become the property of a Native named Gonkon. Britt must wait through the winter before he can set out to rescue and reclaim his wife and children, only to discover that not only does he not have enough money to bargain with the Indians but also that his own family's fate has as much to do with land disputes and treaties as it does with his determination to get revenge. Jiles writes like she owns the frontier, and in this multifaceted, riveting and full of danger novel, she does. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. As the Civil War winds down, freed slave Britt Johnson moves his wife and three children to Young County, TX. He dreams of starting a freight business, and his wife wants to teach school. But when the Comanche and Kiowa come raiding, Britt is not there to defend his family; his oldest son is killed, and the rest of his family and neighbors are taken captive. Britt spends a long winter plotting how to rescue them. Samuel Hammond, a Quaker man from Philadelphia, is sent to the region to be the new Indian Agent. He holds high ideals about nonviolence and teaching the Indians an agrarian lifestyle. Riveting suspense builds as Britt journeys north toward Indian country and encounters many Indian captives who do not want to be re-Anglicized. Using as her basis true histories of the Johnson family and others, Jiles (Stormy Weather) paints a stirring, panoramic tale of the young, troubled state of Texas. Highly recommended for historical fiction fans and readers who enjoy original Westerns. [Prepub Alert, LJ 12/08.]—Keddy Ann Outlaw, Harris Cty. P.L., Houston, TX
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (March 31, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061690449
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,632,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

My website is I review books and say shocking things and include outrageous pictures.

Paulette Jiles was born in Salem, Missouri, in the Missouri Ozarks. Raised in small towns in both south and central Missouri, she attended three different high schools, an exhausting process of social dislocation and fashion wobbles, and with relief graduated from the University of Missouri (KC) in Romance Languages. After graduation she worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto and in the far north of Ontario and in the Quebec Arctic, helping to set up village one-watt FM radio stations in the native language, Anishinabe and Inuktitut. She became reasonably conversant in Anishinabe but Inuktitut was just too much. Very hard. Besides she was only in the eastern Arctic for a year. Work in the north lasted about ten years all told.
She taught at David Thompson University in Nelson B.C. and grew to love the British Columbian ecosystems and general zaniness. She spent one year as a writer-in-residence at Philips Andover in Massachusetts and then returned to the United States permanently when she married Jim Johnson, a Texan. Has lived in Texas since 1995.
She and her husband renovated an old stone house in the San Antonio historic district and amidst the rubble and stonemasons and ripped-out electrical systems she completed Enemy Women. She now lives on a small ranch near a very small town in the Texas Hill Country with two horses and a donkey. If you want a free donkey, please let her know. She is at present working on a dystopian trilogy, learning the pennywhistle and singing alto with a very amateur bluegrass band. Her next book, News of the World, will be out in January 2016 with Harper Collins.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Melanchthon VINE VOICE on April 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The stories of a number of characters on the Texas frontier during the period immediately following the Civil War: a recently-freed African American teamster and his wife and children; a Quaker Indian agent; a white woman captured by the Kiowa tribe but eventually rescued; several Native American characters appear as well. What I loved about this novel was the quality of reflection about the characters, the careful differentiation of their inner thoughts (and the fact that the characters are drawn very differently), the way in which the author puts her characters in the path of conflict, and the portrayal of the irresolvable nature of cultural negotiation along the border between U.S. settlement and the retreating Native American nations. Tremendously well-written, with a very concrete feel to the prose, the book is a joy to read. Also, the author very clearly relied for background material on the most uptodate scholarship in the field, so while there are occasional slips, for the most part historical narrative about cowboys and Indians is avoided.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Enthusiast TOP 500 REVIEWER on June 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Paulette Jiles deserves a lot of credit for the tremendous amount of background research that went into developing this novel. The facts are accurate and the breadth of her knowledge of the post-Civil War West and the lives of the Kiowa and Comanche is impressive. She is also a gifted imagist, creating scenes that are vivid and realistic. I was impressed with her ability to weave together simultaneous strains of the story into a cohesive whole by the end of the book.

However, I had a great deal of difficulty getting "lost" in the reading experience at first, primarily because of the author's use of long, run-on sentences and oddly eccentric sentence/clause structures. Character development in the beginning of the book was also very confusing to me.

Several of the scenes were unnecessarily explicit, so I would not recommend this book to any young reader (under 18) because of this graphic violence.

I'd give it 3-1/2 stars if I could (for its historical accuracy and the author's devotion to her subject), but since I can't, 3 stars for this one!
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Flight Risk (The Gypsy Moth) VINE VOICE on March 18, 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"The Color of Lightning" is a novelized account of the lives of real people and actual events in the Texas of the 1860s and the surrounding Indian Territory. Very literately written, it tells of Britt and Mary Johnson, a black couple who settle in Texas as freed slaves, and their children; Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a ranch widow of indomitable spirit; and Samuel Hammond, a Quaker hired to manage the Indian agency which ministers to the Comanche and Kiowa, who don't want white ways pressed on them. Samuel is one of the few fictionalized people in the book; most characters here actually existed.

In the hours when the men are away on a freighting job, the Johnson and Fitzgerald homesteads are descended upon by Comanche and Kiowa together. The women are brutalized, the children are either snatched up or killed, and the survivors are kidnapped away. Upon his return from freighting, Britt sets about going after them, doing so in a measured, thought-out manner, nothing brash or unconsidered. His coolness is what helps him survive many touchy situations.

Very well written and researched, the author, Paulette Jiles, presents a vivid story of a wild time in the history of that locale. She shows clearly the obtuseness of those running the agencies, with their pigheaded insistence on their own way, the white way, not trying to understand a people who have managed quite well, thank you, without learning outside ways, for centuries. There is a bit of pigheadedness on that side as well, in that the tribes stolidly refused to see that what was coming, as sad as it was, was inevitable.

Interestingly, I read an account of this incident the very day I started this book, in a Western publication, and was surprised to discover the authenticity of the story.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Free2Read on April 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Paulette Jiles's "The Color of Lightning" is a beautiful, emotional foray into North Texas as white settlers begin to take the land from Kiowa and Comanche tribes. In return, the Indians take American and Mexican captives, steal horses, and cattle. It is history, the outcome is known, and yet this book is suspenseful and emotional and beautiful.

The book touched me with the beauty of the vast plains of Texas, the movements of one horse or thousands, the great buffalo herds, the towering clouds and meadows, mountains, forests, rivers. Jiles includes the details of the natural world in deft descriptive passages.

The book touched me with emotions: for the captives, some of whom preferred the Kiowa or Comanche ways and some who longed for home and revenge; for the black soldiers and the black freight men, trying to earn a living and respect after the Civil War officially granted the rights that were not recognized; the love of one man for one woman over a long road to recovery from horrendous hardship and brutality.

The book widened my view of history. I knew of the battles of the plains, of Custer, and the Sioux. Here we have revealed the stories of other settlers, other tribes, the Quaker Indian Agent, who sought peace and fairness among war-like scoundrels on both sides.

Above all, this is the fictionalized story of Britt Johnson, a former slave, seeking to live free.

"The Color of Lightning" is a fast read, but it is not a flash on the horizon. It is a unique retelling from oral histories that will live in readers' hearts long after the last page has been turned.
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