Wednesday, April 18, 2007

THE FIRE ARROW by Richard S. Wheeler

Richard Wheeler is one of my favorite writer’s of western historical fiction, and his latest Barnaby Skye novel, The Fire Arrow is just out in paperback. This is the first title in the Skye series I have read--there are fourteen books in the series, with the fifteenth scheduled to be published in May.

The Fire Arrow is a meandering novel. It begins in early autumn—Skye is on a buffalo hunt with his wife and a small group of Crow, when they are raided by band of Blackfeet who take their horses and give Skye’s wife, Victoria, a near fatal wound. This event sets the novel in motion. Skye battles the environment, more than one unscrupulous Indian trader, and his own desire for fire water, to save Victoria, his outfit, his honor, and his place among the Crow.

The Fire Arrow is an uneven novel. The prose is simple and powerful. Wheeler weaves words into the tapestry of this novel like an expert. His descriptions of wide-open country, and the lonely existence of frontier life are especially poignant and powerful. A few weaknesses of the novel are the roundabout patterns of the plot—Skye makes the same mistake twice, and each time the novel is set in a new direction. The opening question is never fully answered, and the ending is somewhat unsatisfying.

Blemishes and all, The Fire Arrow was an enjoyable read. It is a western that captures frontier life much like it probably was. Barnaby Skye is a contemptuous, complicated and somehow endearing protagonist who is at his best—as a character—in the wild country with nothing but his wife, and a few ponies.

Richard Wheeler is one of the modern masters of the western story, and while The Fire Arrow isn’t his best work, it is pretty damn good. The only problem is, now I need to find a few of the previous Skye novels. Oy! Series characters. I both love and hate them in equal portions.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Boulden, I only now discovered your fine comments about Vengeance Valley. I agree with you wholeheartedly. It was a novel packaged for failure. My original title was Hardluck Yancey's Jackpot, which was intriguing and told a story. (It could have been shortened to Yancey's Jackpot, and still work well.) But Pinnacle opted for a shopworn title, much used in the 40s and 50s, in the hope of hoodwinking the few old codgers who still might buy such a novel. Of course the title and the cover art were totally deceptive, further fostering distrust among customers and leading to the present collapse of western fiction. I simply was saddened that the book wasn't sold on its merits. I had a unique story, but uniqueness is what paperback publishers dread the most. Pinnacle is no longer buying or marketing westerns, which says much.

Richard S. Wheeler

Benjamin Boulden said...

It is unfortunate that paperback publishers seek to insulate themselves from unique stories--they play it safe, but in so doing they doom themselves to failure. It is ironic that the originator of the paperback original, Gold Medal, began as something progressive and new. Too bad Pinnacle, and the other paperback houses, can't/won't take a chance on something new and market it as the next step in story-telling, rather than the old hashed out stories.

I was also disappointed with Pinnacle's handling of your novel, FROM HELL TO MIDNIGHT. Talk about a deceptive cover and book description. It was marketed as a vengeance-seeking geologist, but was in fact a rather humorous and satirical mining story.

Jay said...

I have had the same enjoyment and problems with the stories I have read on this Author too. I have reviewed "The Fire Arrow" and I posted it to show on my Blog next Wednesday May 5th. Thank you for the opportunity to comment.