Never has history been brought more vividly to life than in the pages of The Prophet and the Witch, where a colorful cast of characters awaits readers eager to get behind the scenes of one of America’s greatest forgotten conflicts.

Join master historical storyteller James W. George for this riotous, yet sensitive, retelling of King Philip’s War — the struggle to subjugate the native American population of 1670s New England to colonial rule. It’s also a tale full of rich portrayals and unsettling situations. Here are a few snapshots:

Defrocked Puritan minister Israel Brewster tames and marries fiery beauty Constance Wilder. Captain Benjamin Church and Captain Samuel Mosely lead a bloody but futile assault on an entrenched native American stronghold. And Linto, holy advisor of the Wampanoag tribe, agonizes endlessly about telling  elders to fight the English deep in the treacherous swamps rather than head-on. But this tactic slowly turns against the proud warriors until only a handful are left.

Indeed,  there is no shortage of conflict — actual and psychological — as the saga unfolds at a rapid rate. But the pacing is superb, and the author still manages to build in complex characterizations that propel even minor players far into the reader’s imagination.

Linto improbably quotes Biblical verse to Metacomet, the Wampanoag chief, as they stoically endure their long retreat. Elsewhere, Brewster falls in to fight alongside — and eventually against — flamboyant militia man Dutch Cornelius in one especially disturbing scene. And, along the way, another shocking revelation rivets readers’ attention to a mysterious murder, reminding us all that history is fashioned, for good or ill, by ordinary human beings, not exalted heroes.

“It’s a cruel world, Linto, and men need to kill for what they believe in,” philosophizes Metacomet’s war captain late in the narrative.  “Men need to kill and die for the things and people they love.”

This is a remarkable book that should be required reading for anyone who believes that history is just a dry procession of facts, dates and faraway places. The Prophet and the Witch roundly belies that truism, and those who read it will eagerly await more from this talented writer.

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