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    Review of CLIMB THE WIND by Pamela Sargent


    HarperPrism, 1998

    With the American Civil War over, the Union turns its attentions toward the west, toward the territory of the Lakota and the gold of the badlands. In our history, the result was the genocidal attacks on the Sioux and the horrors of Wounded Knee. But what if the Native Americans of the plains had united--if the Crow had fought with the Sioux and Cheyenne rather than scouting for Custer? And what if the Sioux had been able to secure more modern weapons--Chinese rockets and better rifles? In CLIMB THE WIND, author Pamela Sargent addresses these questions.

    The real hero of the novel is Russian Grigor Rubalev. He knows of American betrayal having suffered it when the U.S. bought Alaska and promptly ignored their promises to the Russian inhabitants. And he's read of the Mongol victories over the far more numerous and better armed Chinese. Could the Lakota chief Touch-The-Clouds be a later-day Gengis Khan? Touch-The-Clouds' mystic visions of Indian warriors in the streets of Eastern cities seems to indicate this possibility, and Rubalev is willing to do anything to make this victory possible.

    From the reader perspective, it is unfortunate that Sargent choses Seneca Lemuel Rowland as her protagonist. Rowland, an ex-soldier, is disenchanted with his life and wants to help the Sioux against the never-ending string of treaty violations that they have suffered. But he sees no alternative. If the Sioux fight, they will lose. If they fail to fight, they will lose. Rowland doesn't believe Rubalev's vision. Even when the plains Indians slaughter Custer and his entire force, Rowland knows that the result can only be more suffering.

    Sargent's selection of the genocide of the Native Americans as her setting for an alternate history is a good choice--the result in our own world was so horrible that almost anyone would want an alternative. The history is also familiar to most Americans, increasing its marketability (try selling an alternate history of Bactria after Alexander's death and see how important this is). Best of all, Sargent's story-telling and descriptions of Lakota customs is compelling. Although I found the first half of CLIMB THE WIND to be slow going and Rowland far too passive for a good protagonist, the novel still makes interesting reading.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 1/12/04

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