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Peyote Fire Kindle Edition
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Deer Cloud and his sister, Singing Grass, are orphans in the Bird Wing band of the Rain Bringer clan. Their aunt, Hawk Wing, and their grandfather, Panther Claw, have raised them. This reader loves the names of Black’s characters, groups and especially the gods: Mother Rain, Father Sun, Aunt Moon, Grandmother Grief, Grandfather Fire.
Panther Claw is the head shaman for the Rain Bringers. Deer Cloud is an apprentice shaman. During a dangerous cliff-climbing ritual, the second shaman and Panther Claw’s rival, Stone Face, falsely accuses Deer Cloud of using witchcraft to kill a third shaman who falls to his death. So the central conflict in the story begins.
The story includes another interesting conflict. The shamans have traditionally used the hallucinogenic wolf flower for their rituals and healing. Wolf flower, though, can bring death to those who eat its crushed seeds. Deer Cloud and his ally, Jumping Rabbit, a female shaman, prefer the “little cactus,” otherwise known by them as the “Child of Deer Person and Mother Rain.” Many of the scenes in Black’s novel feature characters quite “high,” as we’d say now, on wolf flower or peyote.
Another welcome ingredient in Black’s prehistoric stew (for this reader, at least) is the carefree sexuality of her characters. Deer Cloud, for example, has a lover, Cliff Swallow, and he also has Jumping Rabbit. Both women appear to be aware of the other, but neither complains. Likewise, Singing Grass has sexual relations with at least three young men. One of them is a trader she knows will eventually move on and leave her.
I highly recommend Peyote Fire: Shaman of the Canyons.
The best part of the book is the last third, where the conflict between the old shaman and the Deer Cloud grows. The peyote dreaming is very realistic. "Deer Cloud felt deep bliss. The truth of all the gods was his at that moment. He was connected with the hearts of the ancestors in deep and perfect harmony. He communed with them as one being, one life, one world in hallowed ecstasy. There were no boundaries between him and the ancestors or the swirling animals who danced before him. His veins flowed with their blood and theirs with his."
Everything related to the buffalo hunt is beautifully done. Deer Cloud, finally coming into his power calls the buffalo: "Come, my brothers, come! Our spirits welcome you to our life. We are the same, you and I."
On the negative side, the dialog paragraphing is off in several places and the sex scenes seem irrelevant to the story.
Overall, it's a very enjoyable read and a good source of information about the time and place.
A lot of careful research went into this novel about Native Americans who lived in southern Texas. Being a reader of historical fiction, I found all the details describing the ancient culture of the Pecos area interesting. The setting seemed very real and the portrayal of peyote and other plants being used for important ceremonial uses was realistic, I thought. The use of peyote for this purpose (and for recreational use) still goes on today I’ve heard from people who’ve lived in northern Mexico.
All in all, I thought this was a good debut novel by this author. And at the risk of talking this point to death, I didn’t find the sexuality offensive. There are other works about early Native Americans that contain much more along these lines. I’m not sure why it was even brought up.