PRAISE FOR THE CAPTIVE BOY:
“THE CAPTIVE BOY by Julia Robb is a story told in a unique way – through journal entries by several different characters, and a novel within the novel. Robb is masterful in her depiction of each character, bringing to life an intriguing tale of the Old West.”
— Writer’s Digest competition judge
“It will capture you and keep you engaged from the beginning all the way through the end and also give you insights into the difficulties faced by those who fought on both sides of the Indian Wars in Texas after the Civil War. Buy this book. You will not be disappointed.”
— Steve Mathisen
“Ms. Robb’s research is evident on every page. Without becoming bogged down in detail, she employs just enough of it to paint an accurate picture of a dangerous and unforgiving time.”
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One of the many hardships endured by settlers along the Texas frontier was the abduction of their children by the Comanche. The Captive Boy by Julia Robb looks at the emotional toll and tragic consequences of these abductions in the story of one such captive.
The author uses the perspectives of different characters in the book to advance the plot. This approach is simultaneously the strength and lure of the story as well as a challenge to readers to funnel the multiple points of view into a cohesive body of work. Each of the character’s accounts is presented as either a memoir, a journal entry, or even a novel within the novel, which certainly adds to the story’s authenticity, however it also means that the writing styles vary from first to third person and the sequencing of events is not always chronological.
The fictional anthology alternates between the memoirs of Joseph Finley Grant, “With the Fourth Cavalry in Texas,” published as a serial in 1899, “On the Frontier with McKenna,” published in 1878 by Major Sam Brennan, the journal of Dr. Rufus Champ covering 1870-1874, and an Untitled Novel, discovered at West Point, author unknown.
Just as there are alternating viewpoints, there are multiple subplots – the violent confrontations between Native Americans, settlers and soldiers; acts of torture and brutality perpetrated by both sides; murder, suicide, and frontier justice; as well as the hidden agendas, tested loyalties, and romantic relationships that threaten both friendships and military careers. At the heart of the the story, however, is the relationship between August Shiltz and Colonel Theodore McKenna.
Captured at age nine, August is adopted into the Comanche tribe as the son of a war chief and isn’t returned to white society until five years later. By this time he has accepted his new identity and lifestyle, but Colonel McKenna is determined to make him forget his former life as an Indian. He becomes a surrogate father to the boy and almost succeeds before fate intervenes. After another officer’s son bullies and even physically attacks August, he retaliates by killing his tormentor which leads McKenna to denounce August as a savage. The boy escapes and returns to the Comanche where he will become a warrior and enact his vengeance. The climactic ending plays out in the context of the Indian Wars.
As someone who has researched and written about this period in Texas history, I lobbied for the opportunity to read and review this book. I devoured it in a few nights, but confess to some trepidation writing this critique. Certainly the style is unique. It’s as if the reader is pouring through actual historical documents rather than reading a novel. Since each account is dissimilar in its presentation, the whole doesn’t come together until the very end.
Initially I found this style distracting, but credit Julia Robb with forging a detailed, historically accurate portrait of the Texas frontier, and a poignant tale of psychological trauma and self-discovery.