What the Wind Brings by Matthew Hughes. Published by Pulp Literature Press in Vancouver, 2019
For readers who already know the fiction of Matthew Hughes, and there are sadly far too few, his latest book may surprise those who are expecting more of his usual fare. His fictional writing, while taking brief excursions into murder mysteries and action/adventure novels, has been solidly in the realm of F&SF for decades. If anything, Hughes has been more of a miniaturist, with notable short stories and novelettes.
However, many years ago, he came across the germ of an idea for a large historical novel. The idea came from nothing more than a footnote in a book he read while briefly at university. The historical facts begin in the days when the Spanish colonization of the new world was still in progress. A group of black slaves was shipwrecked on the shores of what is now Ecuador. They eventually melded with a native tribe and became a force that kept the conquistadors at bay while developing a culturally mixed civilization.
In 16th century South America, African slaves and indigenous natives had a common enemy, the Spanish. Thrown together onto the shores of Ecuador by fate, the two groups found a way to meld, expand and strengthen their skills as warriors in order to successfully resist the brutal Spanish colonization that would otherwise be inflicted on them should they fail.
It was many decades before English language scholarship caught up with this unique group and Hughes waited until there was enough research available to do justice to the story. Despite decades simmering on the backburner, ‘What the Wind Brings’, is a powerful book. It’s an amazing story, written by an artist at the peak of his creative powers. Hughes has done a remarkable job of wrapping a fictional cloak around these historical people.
The story is centered around three main characters. Expectation, a hermaphrodite native shaman who works in communion with spirits and the use of magic, is the unifying force. Expectation foresees the coming of the blacks and tries to prepare his/her people for the challenges that will occur when the blacks arrive. Anton, the leader of the black slaves, is a powerful and ruthless warrior who enforces his will on both groups, becoming their war chief. Alonso, an educated black slave whose Spanish owner made him an overseer of the others, is only kept alive after the shipwreck because he proves useful to Anton. Alonso has a mysterious background and his destiny will force him into ever more dangerous situations with Anton.
As Anton widens his influence into neighboring tribes, the Spanish conquerors based in Quito are developing plans of their own. On one hand is Father Cabello, a fanatical priest with a passion for the methods of inquisition. Balancing Cabello is Brother Alejandro, a humble and unworldly monk who sees love as the basis for spreading the Christian gospel. The Spanish Governor, the local Bishop and soldiers are all formidably behind Cabello while Alejandro develops an uneasy alliance with the merchants and the natives.
‘What the Wind Brings’ is a book I can recommend without hesitation. If you like taut historical fiction with memorable characters, you won’t do better. The trade edition is scheduled for a December release but, if you’re lucky, you might still snap up one of the signed copies now available in an edition limited to one hundred copies (pulpliterature.com)