We first meet Calling Crow, the primary character in Flight of the Crow, when he is weary and near death, hunting a deer to obtain much-needed food. In this hunt he is unsuccessful; the deer falls instead to an alligator's jaws. Calling Crow is searching for his kidnapped wife, Juana, and is now in another Indian tribe's territory. Weak as he is, he is captured by the other tribe and must ultimately fight for his life. Amazingly, Calling Crow survives not only a fight to the death with one of the tribe's best warriors but also survives falling into the river where he is grabbed up by an alligator. The other members of the tribe decide that here is a man with great powers, blessed by the Great Spirit.
The novel is set in North America but the time is pre-United States, when the Europeans were first landing on the shores of the New Land. In Flight of the Crow, both the French and Spanish land on the shores of America and look to control it -- and both groups hate each other. They offer each other religious excuses for their hatred, as one group is Catholic and the other is Protestant. The real reason is money and the fight for control of new territory. Religion is often used as an excuse for killing. It still occurs today.
And there are the native tribes as well. The American natives were called Indians by Columbus in error (as he thought he was in India) and have been called that name ever since, but here I'll simply refer to them as natives. Why compound an error?
Calling Crow, because of his victory, is allowed to stay with the tribe. There he is befriended and loved by a woman named Green Bird Woman. She is immediately in love with Calling Crow and wants to have a child by him, much to the dismay of Black Snake, who wants the woman for himself. A deadly enemy to Calling Crow has been created.
A Spanish ship, called a "floating house" by the natives, comes to shore. Unbeknownst to Calling Crow, the woman he loves (although he is now living with Green Bird Woman) is aboard that ship. Juana is now an apprentice of sorts to Father Tomas, a priest. She has converted, in a way, to the European religion of Christianity.
Calling Crow, who had himself once been captured by the Spanish and held as a slave by them, speaks fluent Spanish, so he is the one member of the tribe who can converse with these new arrivals. They are feared, these newcomers, for they carry with them their "thunder-sticks", capable of killing men with just a loud noise. Calling Crow advises the tribe to keep its distance, so they refuse to trade with the Spanish. But unbeknownst to the tribe, the Spanish are running out of food and desperately need to trade for corn. The Europeans must have food. If they cannot get it in trade, then they'll have to steal it. Can an all-out war be far behind?
To the author's credit, there is offered here intrigue and double-crossing, envy and hatred on all sides -- and not just on the part of the Europeans. Some of the native Americans are as devious as some of the worst of the new arrivals. Plots and betrayals take place within the tribe just as they do within the European fort. Betrayals are even planned between members of the native tribe and a few of the Europeans, the two groups secretly working together to achieve their own private ends. There are as many Machiavellian machinations here as in any short history of the European palaces.
It is also a love story, of the love of Calling Crow for Juana, the woman he's searched for and longed for, and also of the love he slowly develops for Green Bird Woman, the woman who took him in and nursed him back to health after his near death in the jaws of the alligator.
Paul Clayton writes in a modern style -- there is, thankfully, no attempt to have the natives speak like the "Indians" in the movies -- and he writes crisply, giving readers a true modern adventure tale that just happens to be set in a time period many centuries back. Very quick reading and quite enjoyable.