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The Piasa Puzzle
Daniel looked up at the wall clock. "Well that brings us to the end of our time, but I should tell you that the last sighting of the Piasa Bird was April 1948. Guy named Coleman, while riding on horseback about four miles from Alton, claimed to have sighted a bird "bigger than an airplane." The students were now standing, packing their bags, adjusting their coats, readying themselves to leave."Oh, by the way, be careful out there," Daniel laughed. "And remember ...
The Piasa Puzzle
Daniel looked up at the wall clock. "Well that brings us to the end of our time, but I should tell you that the last sighting of the Piasa Bird was April 1948. Guy named Coleman, while riding on horseback about four miles from Alton, claimed to have sighted a bird "bigger than an airplane." The students were now standing, packing their bags, adjusting their coats, readying themselves to leave."Oh, by the way, be careful out there," Daniel laughed. "And remember to look up now and then, you never know when Daniel French, a graduate student of archaeology, sets out for a romantic picnic under a mysterious local cliff painting known as the Piasa Bird, he unwittingly finds himself involved in an ancient tale filled with passion, sacrifice, love, and loss. The Piasa is a famous petroglyph overlooking the Mississippi River near Alton, Illinois. First described by French explorers Marquette and Joliet in 1673 and later called "America's most fascinating free roadside attraction," the origin of the Piasa is shrouded in legend and obscured by time, with no known date of creation, name of creator, or purpose. As Daniel French seeks to unravel the mystery surrounding the ancient work of art, he learns that there is more to the Piasa than meets the eye.
Posted August 4, 2014
“Flight of the Piasa” weaves together two stories. The first deals with Daniel French, a graduate student in archaeology. We meet him as he tries to hold together his first class under the watchful eye of stern professor Eldredge. Daniel does a fair job but is frustrated by the professor’s criticism. He and his girlfriend Donna spend some time wandering the cliffs near Alton, IL - where Daniel was raised - to take his mind off his educational woes. The see the Piasa - the pre-Columbian Native American dragon painted on the cliff face. He theorizes it may be of Chinese origin - a theory his professor rebuffs. While they explore a cave - they find a skeleton and an ancient coin with Chinese markings on it.
He shows the coin to a Chinese friend and fellow student for his opinion. Coincidentally, another Chinese graduate student gives Daniel a manuscript translated from a 500-year-old text that was itself translated from an even older text.
The text makes up the bulk of the book. It is an epistolary biography of Sun Kai, childhood friend and general (more or less) for Lord Chin - we in the "real world" call him Zheng of Qin or Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin (Chin) Dynasty that ruled from 220 - 210 BCE. Sun helps Chin/Zheng/Qin conquer the last province not under his control to unify the country that still bears his (Chin's)name.
Sun rules a city in a far province and falls in love with Snow Pine - a slave taken as a child from a nomadic people who, we later learn, may be the descendants of an ancient Greek-era people. A very famous ancient Greek-era people. They still use Greek fire; they still sing of Zeus - they are now called the Praxans.
"The Praxans nearly conquer Sun’s troops and his land, but Sun finds the encampment of the Praxan women and children in a fun and well-written bit of espionage.
Sun is later commanded by the emperor to sail the seas to find the home of the Praxan gods - who will bestow upon the now-mad emperor the secret of immortality. Sun agrees, if only so he can escape his and Snow Pine’s certain death at the hands of Zheng and his Legalist toadies.
They sail to India and Africa and eventually end up in the Americas, where the explorers are killed - Sun being the only survivor, or so he believes. While he recuperates in a cave he writes the manuscript that we and Daniel now read.
Sun’s search for Snow Pine's killers takes him along the coast and upstream of a great river. Eventually he finds a large village and discovers that Snow Pine may be alive. He waits in a cave above the river-side village to find his love.
When he is nearly discovered he creates the ruse of a demonic bird to scare away the curious. He even paints a huge portrait of the winged creature on the cliff face...
The rest will reveal the ending. Daniel and Laura take this manuscript to their professor for his thoughts. He is skeptical.
The book does not seem to end on a cliff-hanger, but the preview of his next book reveals that the stories of the characters from both eras will continue.
END OF SPOILERS
What a fun book, well-researched and a quick cliff-hanging read. We care about Sun more so than Daniel, I think. I also think that is intentional - Daniel is our host in introducing Sun and Snow Pine's world; a world excellently realized. The author wrote two more - continuing both stories. I look forward to them both.