Review by Patrick Stuart
In February SICCO was lucky enough to have author John Kachuba speak, where much of his presentation centered on his new book The Savage Apostle. The novel takes place during the 1670’s in the American colonies, with the crux of the story focusing on the expanding Plymouth settlement. The title of the book refers to a Christianized Native American named Sassamon who is murdered, with three members of the Pokanoket tribe then accused on trumped up charges to be decided by a white jury.
The Good: There’s a lot to like in this novel, especially if you’re a fan of historic fiction. The author spent several years researching this time period and it shows. The places and character names sound authentic, as do the settings and daily interactions of the characters, and there’s even guest appearances by historical characters such as Miles Standish, Squanto and Cotton Mather. The novel’s voice sounds transplanted from the seventeenth century so that the reader actually feels in the scene, rather than simply reading a modern description of another time period. Chapters oscillate between the main white protagonist (John Eliot) and the Native American protagonist (Metacom/Philip), and both points of view show their shared despair as Governor Winslow of the Plymouth settlers uses Machiavellian techniques to push Metacom to a fateful and calamitous decision. No matter how much might wish for a happy ending . . . unfortunately, we all know how history typically played out in these situations.
The Bad: Ironically, what makes the novel so rich in detail is what takes away somewhat from the plot. The novel is a trim 220 pages, and the plot is a pretty straightforward trial scene. Not much mystery is involved, and the decision and aftermath are no surprise. Which is the conundrum of historical fiction; how much can you deviate from history in the interest of story? Other novels from that time period do the opposite, such as The Pilgrim (by Hugh Nissenson) and The Midwife’s Tale (by Sam Thomas), where history becomes the background for the story to happen, allowing a tapestry of fiction and reality to form. Perhaps there’s more of a middle ground to investigate in future books.
Either way, John Kachuba is a promising author with a deep understanding of this vastly underrated and unexplored time period in American history. Although I felt this novel could’ve expanded into additional plot and intrigue, I definitely look forward to future work from him. Out of 4 thumbs up, I give this a strong 3.