Kurt R.A. Giambastiani,
From the Heart of the Storm
(Roc, 2004)

Following the life of George Custer Jr. and his adopted Cheyenne people, Kurt R.A. Giambastiani's Fallen Cloud saga has covered an American continent where the native people had an edge, dinosaurs still roam and industrialization is just beginning to close its hand around the country. From the Heart of the Storm provides a heartfelt trip across the western world, a dramatic political battle between the senior Custer -- now president -- and his own cabinet, the beginning of several wars and the splintering factions of Spain, made human by the involvement of involved and vital characters.

The one disappointment is the supposed star of the books, Custer Jr. He is a crucial element in the story, serving as a prop for political ploys and motivation for half the main cast. But Custer himself is of little interest in the book, spending most of it wallowing in self-pity and despair, finding his resolve a few scant pages before the tale ends. Fans who have read the series from the start may well find satisfaction in this long period of introspection, and given the serial nature of Giambastiani's alternate histories, he may feel the leisure to let a main character sit in passive mode for the bulk of a novel. It's a theory with some validity and allows for some very deep soul-searching, but new fans won't find themselves endeared to the possible hero through this outing.

It hardly matters with so many other fascinating players on the stage. However many presidents, queens and ambassadors try to control the flow of world events, From the Heart of the Storm belongs to two Cheyenne women, Speaks While Leaving and Mouse Road. Driven by love for their families and hope for their people, the two women put themselves through the greatest dangers and the greatest losses of the story with grace and vulnerability. The women's friendship is handled with humor and accuracy, and their maturity through facing the unknown is far more riveting than Custer's slow journey back to self-confidence. Through their diplomatic journeys, Giambastiani shows off his skill in depicting the hidden wheels of power. A war in the Cheyenne plains and a political battle in the White House do less to drive home the inevitability of oncoming disaster than one tense family dinner.

From the Heart of the Storm isn't the most tightly knit book. The prose often feels labored, as though Giambastiani himself were forcing a particularly slow passage. But when the prose is relaxed, the camera is on his fascinating women and the eye is allowed to roam a little, the world of the Fallen Cloud saga reveals great beauty. It's a world readers will be eager to share again with the exactly life-sized heroes who walk it, joined with them in a desire to know how it all will turn out.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 29 May 2004

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