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Black Hills: A Novel Hardcover – February 24, 2010

4.0 out of 5 stars 110 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Hugo-winner Simmons, the author of such acclaimed space operas as Hyperion and Olympos as well as Drood, an intriguing riff on Dickens's unfinished last novel, displays the impressive breath of his imagination in this historical novel with a supernatural slant. In the author's retelling of Custer's last stand at the Little Big Horn in 1876, the dying general's ghost enters the body of Paha Sapa, a 10-year-old Sioux warrior who's able to see both the past and the future by touching people. The action leaps around in time to illustrate the arc of Sapa's life, but focuses on 1936, when, as a septuagenarian, he plots to blow up the monuments on Mount Rushmore in time for a visit to the site by FDR to atone for his role in constructing the stone likenesses. In his ability to create complex characters and pair them with suspenseful situations, Simmons stands almost unmatched among his contemporaries. 6-city author tour. (Feb.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Simmons's previous novels The Terror (2007) and Drood (2009) meld historical figures and events to occult phenomena, and Black Hills follows a similar pattern. Here, Simmons fuses the triumph of American Western expansion and the marvels of early 20th-century science and engineering with Native American spirituality and mysticism. Simmons is a gifted storyteller whose meticulous research and evocative prose deftly transport readers to another time and place. However, the Christian Science Monitor found the frequent barrage of historical minutiae tedious and criticized the novel's interpretation of Manifest Destiny and the harsh treatment of native populations, which it considered obnoxious and disrespectful. However, most critics praised Black Hills as a highly imaginative, interesting novel and a worthy addition to Simmons's oeuvre.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books; 1 edition (February 24, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031600698X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316006989
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #498,529 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In June of 1876, a gifted young Lakota Indian boy named Paha Sapa touches a dying white soldier at the Battle of Little Big Horn, little realizing that he is "counting coup" on the fallen General Custer himself. In that moment, the boy's life changes forever, as the ghost of the slain war leader mysteriously enters his soul, where it will reside, speaking to him at odd moments, for the next sixty-plus years.

Black Hills comes from the vivid imagination of Dan Simmons, author of previous lengthy best-selling historical novels The Terror and Drood. The book is long, entertaining, and wonderfully descriptive, though it lapses into excessive wordiness at times. The epic story encompasses seven decades of Paha Sapa's life and treats the reader to diverse settings ranging from the Black Hills of South Dakota to the "White City" of the Chicago World's Fair. Told in a nonlinear fashion, much of it in present tense, the story can be difficult to follow, particularly toward the beginning of the book before the reader is accustomed to the back-and-forth, decade-skipping flow of the narrative.

The main plot centers around the construction of the Mount Rushmore memorial, carved into a mountain sacred to the Lakota tribe. Paha Sapa signs on as a powderman on the blasting crew, hoping to fulfill a destiny revealed to him as a child in a vision: to stop the wasicus--the white "fat takers"--from destroying the Black Hills. Other story lines include Paha Sapa's wonderful coming of age as a Lakota visionary, a too-brief romantic interlude in Chicago, and the underlying saga of America's growing-up years through the early twentieth century.
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You know how in many historical novels, historical facts and details are so intricately woven into the plot that you are barely aware of the author's extensive research? Well, this novel isn't one of those. In "Black Hills," every paragraph, every page screams "Look at all the research I have done!" There apparently isn't a fact that Dan Simmons has uncovered--whether relevant to the plot or not--that he doesn't cram into this book. The mind-boggling detail of minutia is almost laughable in places. Want to know the dimensions and weight and workings of the machinery in the power plant of the Chicago World's Fair? It has absolutely nothing to do with the story, but it's all there. There are hundreds of similar examples, and they all get in the way of an otherwise clever dramatization of Sioux (Lakota) history, Custer's Last Stand, and the building of Mount Rushmore. Dan Simmons has always needed a good editor, but never before like he needs with this novel. There are other annoying elements as well. While Custer's early letters to his wife , as depicted in this novel,may be taken from the real ones Custer wrote, it smacks of gratuitous sex, included because, well, otherwise there'd be no sex in this story. (Apparently love is not enough). Custer's carnal details feel out of place and unnecessary. In fact, all the chapters of Custer's letters feel overwritten and unnecessary. Custer, in real life, was not a person deserving of sympathy. The real story here is about the protagonist, Paha Sapa, and his Lakota heritage, his brief marriage, his progeny, and his work on Mt. Rushmore. The nonsense about Custer's ghost is quite secondary, or should have been. What redeemed this book for me was the ending which, although way too preachy and heavy-handed, tied up loose ends and was quite touching. After finishing this nearly 500-page book (while fighting the urge several times to put it down), I came to realize that about 300 pages of it were really worthwhile.
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Format: Hardcover
Black Hills, by Dan Simmons, begins with Paha Sapa, a young Lakota boy, touching the body of the dying General George Custer at Little Big Horn. In that moment, Custer's spirit enters Paha Sapa's body. It doesn't leave for over sixty years.

Paha Sapa experiences this more than once with people. He has Custer's spirit in his head, but he also can see the pasts and futures of many people he meets, including Crazy Horse. During his initiation ceremony to become a man, Paha Sapa also experiences a terrible vision of the future; four large stone presidents of the United States careening across his beloved Black Hills, eating everything in their sight and leaving all behind them to waste. Paha Sapa grows up as his Lakota family and the other native tribes of the Great Plains die out. He comes to the decision that he must destroy these stone presidents before they destroy his land. So he sets out on a plan to blow up Mt. Rushmore before the monument is complete.

Paha Sapa is a wonderful character; he is so good and so kind and so aware of his culture disintegrating around him. He is a complicated person who hates what the white settlers have done to his land but who also respects and admires their ingenuity and passion. He is one of the most achingly lonely characters I have met in a very long time. He is kind to everyone, but is set apart by his race and by the ghost in his mind and by other people's memories crowding out his own memories. I fell in love with him and his quiet dignity.

I also enjoyed the story and Simmons' storytelling approach. There is a true sense of immediacy for the reader in each chapter. The narrative jumps around a lot, from the 1870s to the 1930s and between Paha Sapa and General Custer.
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