Review: The Spirit of Thunder by Kurt R. A. Giambastiani

The Spirit of ThunderThis book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

When readers think of alternate history novels, the name that usually springs to mind is Harry Turtledove.

Now, though, a new author has tackled the genre. Kurt R. A. Giambastiani takes reader to the American West for a tale of politics and bravery. The Spirit of Thunder details a land very different from the America we all know.

George Custer’s presidency begins on shaky ground. War with the Cheyenne Alliance rages unabated, and masses of people clog the Eastern seaboard, desperate for land. Custer and his cabinet develop a plan to build a bridge that spans the Missouri and, upon its completion, grant the land beyond it to settlers. The hope is that the settlers will drive off the Indians, bringing civilization to the West.

But the President has an added worry, a personal one. His only son, George Jr., crash-landed in Indian lands. He now fights with the Cheyenne, disgusted with his father’s politics and back-stabbing. In an effort to protect those he loves, George Jr. embarks on a quest to give the plains dwellers a fighting chance… by giving them guns.

Ultimately, father will battle son in this alternate American West.

The Spirit of Thunder marks the author’s second foray into alternative history, and this one’s an intriguing journey. This West contains elements both familiar and strange: Buffalo share the plains with the dinosaur-like whistlers, and the states have names like Kansa and Penn’s Sylvania. There’s just enough odd about the familiar, to create a world that nonetheless resonates as possible.

The characterizations, however, fall a little short. The novel’s strongest presence is President Custer, ostensibly the bad guy, while his son (the supposed hero) comes across as somewhat shallow. The President, although calculating and rather cruel, exudes a humanity missing from George Jr.

While not a large flaw, readers may find it peculiar to realize that they empathize with the villain.

Overall, The Spirit of Thunder works as a portrait of how our country’s history could have evolved. In this time, when we look to our past to guide our futures, alternative history novels such as this one resonate with special intensity.