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Speaks the Nightbird

Speaks the Nightbird - Robert R. McCammon This is a very entertaining pseudo-historical novel about a witch trial in the Carolinas in the late 17th century. More accurately, it's about the stuggles of a small, fledgling colonial town as it wrestles with the impending witch trial and the supposed witch jailed therein. A young upstart lawyer believes the witch's innocence and provides the necessary contrast to the pigheaded townsfolk and to his mentor, the old traditionalist magistrate, who is trying to run everything by the book. Ultimately the story is a testament to the gullibility of crowds and the emergence of dangerous mob mentality when confronting events that cannot be easily understood. The townspeople are scared and resort to the easiest solution, nearly tearing the entire town apart and killing a sizable number of residents in the process. I realize that this is superimposing modern sensibilities and beliefs onto a 17th century society, which is probably not fair. I suppose one could draw different conclusions by absorbing the book from the perspective of what it was like to live in those times but the Hell with it.

I have been a longtime McCammon reader and have admired his "Swan Song" most of all. I read that book as a kid and it always stuck with me. While I've since come to realize that McCammon isn't what I'd consider the smoothest author though he is a very fine storyteller. The book is loaded with suspense and enough twists to keep you hooked early on. Despite the book's bulk the pace is relatively even throughout and contains equal amounts of suspense, action, and plot development to warrant the size.

There are a few elements that made me grind my teeth like the historical "fact dropping" tidbits. Though these were no doubt designed to create a sense of historical accuracy, I instead found that many of the references stood out, feeling somewhat forced and contrived. It felt almost like McCammon was screaming from the page, "Look, everyone! I researched this stuff!". Thankfully these diminish as the book progresses.

Another strange aspect, and I only bring it up because it appears yet again in the subsequent novel, "The Queen of Bedlam", is McCammon's bizarre inclusion of an effeminate male character with questionable sexual orientation, makeup, and clothing choices. I have yet to read "Mister Slaughter" on my to-read pile. If that same archetype is found there I am really going to start to wonder what's going on there.

Lastly, the one-eyed monstrous bear that appears within the story -- and its role in the bizarre scene leading up to the story's conclusion -- are thoroughly pointless and definitely out of place with the rest of the book.