Author Judd Cole experienced success in the 1990s with his Native American themed western series 'Cheyenne'. Beginning with the debut, “Arrow Keeper” (1992), the series ran for 22 installments. Additionally, Cole's name appears on another series entitled 'Wild Bill', which ran from 1999-2001 encompassing eight novels. Digging into the author's past reveals that Judd Cole is actually John Edward Ames, a journeyman who has written horror titles as well as other western entries under the name Ralph Compton and Dodge Tyler.
“Arrow Keeper” is a superb western novel that should appeal to fans of the Piccadilly Cowboys' 'Apache' series of the 1970s. While less violent and more commercially accessible to all ages, the series and its debut centers around a young Cheyenne who was raised by a white family. Centralizing the coming-of-age archetype, “Arrow Keeper” is a sweeping 1840s adventure tale set in and around Powder River, Wyoming.
The book's prologue sets the series off with a whirlwind of action between Pawnee scouts, the U.S. Army and a defending Cheyenne tribe. The battle leaves just one Cheyenne survivor, tribal leader Running Antelope's infant son. An Army lieutenant brings the baby back to Fort Bates and gifts the child to mercantile store owners John and Sarah Hanchon, who raise Matthew Hanchon as their son.
Chapter one leads into the book's narrative, the eventual return of 16-yr old Matthew Hanchon to his people. Raised by white men around Fort Bates, Matthew endures the typical racial injustice of being a lone Native American. Never learning his true origin, Matthew's experience is simply farming, devoid of any rich ancestral skill-sets. After losing a fight, and a lover, Matthew eventually runs away from home and heads into rural Wyoming to seek out his Cheyenne brotherhood.
“Arrow Keeper” really comes into its own as a “fish out of water” story. Matthew finds solace within a Cheyenne tribe but is quickly brutalized in what tribesmen feel is a ploy by the Army to place a spy in their ranks. Facing near death, the tribe's leader, Arrow Keeper, receives a vision that Matthew is indeed Running Antelope's son. Thus, Matthew must endure the trials and tribulations to become a full-fledged member of the tribe and prove his loyalty.
Ames does a fantastic job by painting the indifference between white settlers and Native Americans at this point in American history. His parallel concept of depicting Matthew's loss of a true home both with white men and Native Americans is an intriguing concept that really works under his writing style. Ames, a stirring storyteller, blends customs, rituals and chants within the narrative to provide an authentic look at the life of a Cheyenne warrior. Of course these trials and tribulations are painful, but eventually sets the stage for a rousing battle to close out this book's story-line.
I'm really excited about this series and I've collected the first few books. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and found it's pace, historical depth and side-stories maximized what the genre is capable of in the right hands. I can't say enough good things about this book and it's series potential.
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