Reviewed by Donna Meredith
The Last Great American Magic, by L.C. Fiore, is a sprawling epic spanning the life of the great Shawnee warrior Tecumseh from childhood in Ohio Country to his death in Upper Canada, roughly 1774-1813. The warrior’s battles take him all over the East, from Tennessee to southern bayous, joining forces with various tribes and even fighting alongside the British in his efforts to drive the Americans from his homeland.
A resident of Durham, North Carolina, Fiore won wide acclaim for his debut novel Green Gospel. It was named First Runner-Up in the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Awards and was short-listed for the 2011 Balcones Fiction Prize. His fiction has appeared in various literary journals, including Ploughshares. He serves as Communications director for the North Carolina Writers’ Network.
With thundering force, all the touchstones of a good story roll together in The Last Great American Magic. Three brothers with wildly different personalities create conflict. Forbidden romance and vicious battles add the spice of clashing cultures. And magic percolates at every bend of the forest and river, evidenced by shamans and powerful tokens.
The oldest of triplets by a few minutes, Tecumseh becomes known as the Great Panther Moving across the Sky. Rattle, the second baby to appear, is obese and weak. Unable to excel physically, he studies the magic of the medicine man. The third boy, Open Door, is developmentally challenged, providing Rattle with someone even less fit than he to mock.
When the boys turn six, their father, a great war chief, takes them to the river to find their tokens:
The river revealed everyone for who they were. Tecumseh knew this—it was the power of the Great Horned Snake. Some considered it evil, but it had also given the blackest, most potent medicines to the shamans. The river reminded the boy that there was evil in the world, and there always would be. He could either learn to live with it and try to control it, or placate it with offerings.
Tecumseh pulls a lump of quartz from the river bottom as his token, one that shimmers with changing colors, capable of protecting him, of warning him when magic or danger is nearby. He is the only one of the triplets to receive a token, further cementing his position as a leader. When he goes on a quest to find a spirit guide, his token alerts him to Crazy Jack, a trickster and trader, whose presence is sometimes of this world, sometimes not. Mysteriously, when Tecumseh returns from his quest, he can speak and understand English. This powerful gift from his spirit guide enables interaction with the white man. The trickster guide warns Tecumseh that “[o]ne day the white man will push the Shawnee so far west that all around will be nothing but sand and dryness and open sky. And then you will have to rely on what the white man gives you to survive.”
The ability to speak English is both a blessing and a curse. It turns Tecumseh into a tool to be used by Indians and Whites alike. It also builds a bridge between him and the beautiful white captive Rebecca Galloway. Their tangled relationship leaves Tecumseh feeling “trapped between his desire and his need to let her go.”
Though the strongest of the boys, Tecumseh is not without faults. In his desire to excel, he causes great injury to his brother Rattle and must “wear the shame and guilt of being its cause.” Fiore’s careful attention to credible character development elevates this story beyond its historical value.
The writing shines with lovely passages like this one: “The quality of daylight in the afternoon: the hills ran with it. Something buttery in the air that Tecumseh could sift through his teeth.” How could you read that passage and not share in the joy Tecumseh finds in the outdoor life?
With such differing views of land and ownership, the conflict between cultures is inevitable. To this writer’s credit, he avoids romanticizing the Indians even while recognizing their harmony with nature. He paints in unsparing detail the brutal nature of torture and the barbaric acts of war.
Sprinklings of philosophy about home, language, and immortality lend this story a timeless quality. For Tecumseh, immortality means being remembered after death. He wanted to “walk like a god. To be remembered, to persist.” In this regard, he achieved his dream. Writers are still telling his story, still singing his song, hoping to be remembered themselves.
Click here to purchase this book: