Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Winter Shadows by Will Henry (Western novellas)

"Will Henry" was one of the pseudonyms of Henry Wilson Allen (another was "Heck Allen," under which he wrote several Tex Avery cartoons). "Will Henry" was a Western writer, however — a prolific one and a five-time Spur Award winner.

Winter Shadows contains two of Henry's Western novellas, both winter-focused and both about Native Americans. "Lapwai Winter" features the Nez Percé tribe. At 50 pages, it is little more than a trifle, and did not seem to have as much story as it had "message".

"Winter Shadows," however is something else entirely. At 150 pages, it is really a short novel and takes up most of this slim volume. It is also the far better story. It tells the story of a mixed-blood Mandan Indian named Little Raven. The Mandans are starving during the long and rough winter, and Little Raven takes it upon himself to save the tribe, venturing out into the elements to get food by whatever means necessary.

But Little Raven also has a strong sense of honor, and this is where Will Henry's story really takes off. Nursed back to health after exposure by a mother wolf (now, stay with me here), Little Raven promises he will come back with food for her. This leads him on several interconnected adventures (one of which involves a medicine man with questionable intentions) — all through the blustering weather that Henry makes the reader feel strongly. Little Raven is a character I am unlikely to forget soon, and Will Henry is an author I am definitely going to seek more of.

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