★★★★★ Shawnee, written by Bob Giel, is a sprawling, warm-hearted Western epic that tells the tragic story of the Pearce family. Seth Pearce, together with his son Alonso (or ‘Lon’) manage a modest farm on the outskirts of a settlement called Shawneetown. When a local group of ragtag lawless men comes to the farm in seek of recruitments, Seth is swayed by their talk of saving Shawnee from the nefarious influence of Lincoln’s Union forces. After having a change of heart, Seth leaves the group and returns to his family—but the rebels chase him down and hang him in front of Lon. When Lon’s mother is killed attempting to defend herself from the men, Lon swears revenge for his murdered parents and assumes the moniker ‘Shawnee’ to conceal his identity. His travels take him from Kansas all the way to Texas, and along the way, Shawnee encounters folks in dire straits. In his quest to end a man’s life, Shawnee might just end up saving a few others.
Giel is a great genre writer, summoning a real sense of the beauty—and brutality—of life in the Wild West. The dialogue does a lot of the heavy lifting here and helps keep the book moving briskly. It also feels incredibly authentic to the time period, and, whether or not that’s true, most readers will find the use of extinct colloquialisms that many of us have only heard used in Looney Tunes vignettes to be incredibly charming. Giel also does a superb job of tempering the natural violence of his subject matter—it is the Wild West after all—with moments of tenderness and emotional vulnerability. Overall, Shawnee is a thrilling dive into a timeless setting.