The American Civil War is the landscape for this haunting novel set in 1864. Vermonter Morgan Kinneson sets out to find his brother, Pilgrim, who has been serving in the Union army as a physician. Morganís journey is filled with strange happenings and violent encounters, a tribe of cold-eyed killers and a quest for a rune stone that carries a map of the Underground Railroad through the Great Smoky Mountains.
Entrusted with the safety of elderly fugitive Jesse Moses, Morganís impulsive actions leave the man at risk, hung by those who would have his secret stone. Morgan returns too late; he reacts by initiating a purposeful retaliation against the band of crazy murderers who show no fear and range throughout the mountains like a string of curses: ďHe must confront and kill the devil or be killed himself.Ē
Carrying Jesseís rune and a heavy burden of guilt, Morgan continues his search for Pilgrim, hearing stories of a beautiful runaway slave girl and her brother, Solomon. Soon her name, Slidell, is mingled with Morganís, the tribe of murderers intent on capturing them both. When Morgan finally meets Slidell, he falls hopelessly in love, entangled in her quest for freedom from a horrific past.
Much like Cold Mountain, Mosher draws on the particularity of place and the idiosyncratic personalities of the psychopathic terrorists who roam the mountains striking fear in all. Morgan confronts each in a bloody confrontation: Doctor Surgeon; Steptoe, a necrophiliac actor; Prophet Floyd, a mad preacher; Ludie Too, a murderous minstrel; King George and the other nightmarish characters who rise from the mountains like Satanís minions with a thirst for blood.
While Morgan finds in Slidell a source of joy, he is acutely aware of his own mistakes and how he has contributed to her misery. But for a brief time, the pair frolics in their union as though they are not living in a world of war and chaos, surrounded by evil and malcontents, the future full of promise instead of horror. Soon enough, the time intrudes once more, and the pair must face their burdens and choices.
It is impossible not to get caught up in Morganís journey, the strange souls he encounters along the way, places on the Underground Railroad marked with rune symbols, a pastiche of good and evil where Morgan is tested again and again: ďThe world held a depth of evil that he had not yet plumbed.Ē Mosher has created a Grimmís fairy tale of wizards and haints, where what is real melds with fantasy and death lurks, waiting, as Morgan becomes a man who bears the harsh weight of his mission.