I received Tatham Mound as a Christmas gift I don’t know how long ago, but I did not pick it up until recently. To be honest, I feared it would be a tedious read as I had already read about De Soto’s expedition in the Gears’ excellent Contact Trilogy. I decided to give it a try not so long ago and I think historical fiction fans will find much to enjoy in the book.
Owing to the book jacket, I figured De Soto’s expedition would be the focus of the novel. To my surprise, it played a rather minor role. The book is a little over five hundred pages long, but Hernando De Soto’s expedition takes up no more than a hundred pages. The big clashes that are covered in the Contact Trilogy–the Napituca battle and the Mabila battle for example–are also covered in Tatham Mound, but the protagonist does not play an active role in either so the narration is a bit detached. I personally didn’t mind this but readers looking for a blow by blow account of de Soto’s major battles in the Southeast may be disappointed.
De Soto’s expedition was, in certain respects, one of the less interesting aspects of the book. What really made the book special, in my mind at least, was the author’s narration style. The story is told from first-person but switches perspectives often since the narrator is often relating the accounts of others. As a result, Anthony gives the reader a great deal of ability to toggle between different places (the bulk of the story takes place in pre-Columbian Florida but readers also get to spend some time in Tenochtitlan and Cahokia) and times. Not only does this give us a very expansive portrayal of pre-Columbian life, it gives us the ability to explore the backstory of numerous characters in a way that’s reminiscent, in a good way, of Lost.
However, if I had to pick one thing I liked the most about the book, it would probably be the ending. It can be difficult to tie all the loose ends together in a novel, especially a historical novel that tries to stick close to the known facts, but Anthony does an exceptional job with the final scene of the book. It is truly a standout scene and I suspect readers will reflect on Tale Teller’s last conversation with the spirits long after they finish reading the book.
Truth be told, Tatham Mound is probably not for everyone. Readers squeamish about intimacy should probably stay away from the book. It is definitely not erotica, but sex does play a pretty large role in the narrative.
Anthony takes a little bit of time to explain why in the afterward of the book and also shares with readers his personal connection to Tatham Mound. As it turns out, he has a fairly strong connection with the historical site of Tatham Mound. Besides personally visiting it on numerous occasions, he also paid tens of thousands of dollars to have the site excavated. Learning about his personal investment in Tatham Mound didn’t make me like the book better per se, but it did give me a deeper respect for Anthony’s creative decisions as well as his research bona fides. All in all, I think there’s much to enjoy in Anthony’s Tatham Mound and I recommend the book to anyone in pre-Columbian history or literary fiction.