31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Provocative, but sometimes overly disturbing,
This review is from: The Children of First Man (Mass Market Paperback)
This is a very intriguing treatment of a story that most Americans no longer remember. The tale of Prince Madoc, who supposedly came over to Alabama from Wales in the same year as the events described in T.S. Eliot's "Murder in the Cathedral", (1170 A.D.), has had its zealous believers, as well as its detractors, since the days of Elizabeth I. In this book, Thom asks the science-fictional question of "what if" a.) this legend were in fact true, and b.) how did the descendants of Madocs colonists fare? It is always thought-provoking, always interesting. There is one very disturbing scene, which essentially details a rape. I would advise women and younger readers, and sensitive people in general, to try to be prepared for this, and perhaps to gloss over it altogether. It does serve to illustrate the brutality of life in certain societies, but was a bit excessive for me. The author obviously felt it was necessary, but I am not sure I totally agree.
Apart from that, there is a lot to be said for this book. The whole idea is, for some people, inherently fascinating. This novel covers a span of many centuries, in a way that works well for me. You see the medieval Welsh people at one point, then a chapter or two later you see them as increasingly illiterate people with fewer and fewer remnants of their religion, language, memories of Europe, etc. It is heart-breaking, but at the same time you do feel for the descendants of the original colonists, who must survive in a harsh world, and who have little time for remembering amenities. The battle scenes with the Cherokee, Sioux, etc. are exciting, I should say, but this is not a book about war as such. It is a very thoughtful overview of an intriguing idea, and I must say that there is a LOT of attention paid to the ways of real native americans. Rituals, customs, crafts, etc. are all gone into with the eye of an anthropologist. I read somewhere that Thom is related, by blood or marriage, I don't remember, to at least one native american tribe, and the sympathy engendered by this tie, tempered by a realism which many writers on these peoples do not display, shines through on every page.
Some other books I recommend on related topics include "Hidden Cities" by Roger Kennedy; the children's book "A Swiftly Tilting Planet", by Madeleine L'Engle; "Sacajawea" by Anna Lee Waldo; or especially "Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians : Written During Eight Years' Travel Among Them, 1832-1839" by George Catlin. Or, if you go to yahoo.com, google.com, hotbot.com, or whatever search engine you prefer, try searching for "madoc and mandan", using Boolean operators, and you should find a few dozen websites dealing with this fascinating legend.