People of the Lightning

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People of the Lightning takes us into ancient Florida, to a village of fisher folk who must face their deepest fear: Pondwander, the White Lightning Boy, the first of his kind to be born in tens of tens of summers. His white hair, pink eyes, and pale skin make him fearsome enough, but prophecy foretells that a Lightning Boy is destined to make Sister Moon bury her face in the clouds and weep falling stars—and unleash the winds of destruction.

Fearing their ultimate demise, the ...

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People of the Lightning takes us into ancient Florida, to a village of fisher folk who must face their deepest fear: Pondwander, the White Lightning Boy, the first of his kind to be born in tens of tens of summers. His white hair, pink eyes, and pale skin make him fearsome enough, but prophecy foretells that a Lightning Boy is destined to make Sister Moon bury her face in the clouds and weep falling stars—and unleash the winds of destruction.

Fearing their ultimate demise, the folk manage to trade him off in marriage to Musselwhite, a woman warrior who knows nothing of the prophecy. But when Pondwander is kidnapped, she must face an ages-old enemy who has always been determined to destroy her. But what is truly in store now that this Lightning Boy is hearing voices in the wind, telling him of his role in the coming horror?

New York Times and USA Today's bestselling authors W. Michael and Kathleen O'Neal Gear bring North America's Forgotten Past to vivid life in this epic, romantic historical novel.

The Gears' mastery of the historical novel has made their previous novels of the pre-Columbian North Americans critically acclaimed international bestsellers. People of the Lightning continues the history-based fantasy with a breathtaking epic of heartbreak and passion, warfare and nature's violence, set 8,000 years ago in the land now known as Florida.

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Editorial Reviews

Kathleen Hughes
This epic historical romance is a fascinating, well-told tale of ancient superstition and culture, set in Florida approximately 8,000 years ago, amid a hauntingly eerie, mystical, and primeval landscape. The story begins in a village besieged by enemy tribes, where Musselwhite, a revered woman warrior and leader, must face her archenemy Cottonmouth after he has captured her beloved husband and murdered her son and is now determined to destroy her and the village. Through a series of events, Musselwhite meets and agrees to marry another husband, 15-year-old Pondwader, an albino, who because of his eyes, hair, and skin is both hated and feared as a "lightning boy," and together they face the dreaded enemy Cottonmouth. The Gears' thorough research and their experience as professional archaeologists lend credibility to their novel and contribute to its absorbing portrait of ancient life.
From the Publisher
Praise for Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear and the Novels of North America’s Forgotten Past

“The multitalented Gears, husband-and-wife archaeologists and best-selling authors, score a literary bull’s-eye as they weave another vivid narrative thread into their stunning tapestry of Native Americana….The Gears continue do a magnificent job of advancing a fascinating historical chronicle via action, adventure, and archaeology.”—Booklist on People of the Longhouse

“Rich in cultural detail….Both longtime fans and newcomers will be satisfied. Another fine entry in an ambitious, long-running series.”—Kirkus Reviews on People of the Longhouse

“Set in the 1300s largely in what is now Alabama and Mississippi, this complex novel tracks three wanderers’ quest to create peace in violent times. Blended with the carefully drawn suspense of court intrigues, colorful characters and sharp plot twists, this is a terrific tale.”—Publishers Weekly on People of the Thunder

People of the Raven, at one level, is the re-creation of a lost and forgotten civilization by two noted archaeologists. But this story of Kennewick Man also involves an important legal battle pending in the U.S. Supreme Court and is a good read for those of us intrigued by the earliest Americans.”—Tony Hillerman, New York Times bestselling author

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812515565
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 11/15/1996
  • Series: North America's Forgotten Past Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 608
  • Sales rank: 330,891
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.69 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Kathleen O'Neal Gear is a former state historian and archaeologist for Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska for the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has twice received the federal government's Special Achievement Award for ""outstanding management"" of our nation's cultural heritage.

W. Michael Gear holds a master's degree in archaeology and has worked as a professional archaeologist since 1978. He is principal investigator for Wind River Archaeological Consultants.

Together they have written the North America’s Forgotten Past series (People of the Morning Star, People of the Songtrail, People of the Mist, People of the Wolf, among others); and the Anasazi Mysteries series. The Gears live in Thermopolis, WY.


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Read an Excerpt

People of the Lightning


Cottonmouth could not take his eyes from the young woman warrior who lay on her stomach before him. Feathers of long hair haloed her beautiful face, looking startlingly black against the white sand. Her short tunic, the color of dry grass, had been woven from the finest palm thread, and painted with the green images of bobcat, whale, and dolphin. In the past half a hand of time, so much blood had run from her wound that it had pooled, red and glistening, at her side. As his men moved among the dead, the amber gleam of their torches reflected in that pool like flashes of lightning.

Cottonmouth forced a shallow breath into his lungs. Every wet scent of the night smelled incredibly clear to him, as if it had soaked into his flesh and been carried through his veins like a powerful Spirit plant. The sweetness of the coastal pines mixed with the salty fragrances of fish and sea, and the earthiness of the rain storm that had washed the world just before the battle.

After his dart had pierced her back just below the shoulder blades, she had fallen, then weakly pushed up and tried to crawl away. When she could go no further, she had stiffened her trembling arms and legs, keeping herself upright so that she might turn and defiantly stare him in the eyes.

The shock of seeing that face had been like a hard fist in his stomach.

Blessed Sun Mother, how many times had he gazed intothose eyes in his dreams? How many times had he tenderly touched that face?

Clenching his hands to nerve himself, he walked forward and knelt beside the young woman. Huge, amorphous shadows swayed through the trees as a few of his warriors lifted their torches momentarily to watch him, curious.

He had lost only two men in the battle. The remaining ten-and-eight moved through the camp, laughing and joking, kicking over the bodies, ripping Power bundles from around throats, plundering the dead for trinkets to take home to their wives and children. Against the wavering background of firelit palms, oaks, and pines, they seemed somehow unreal ... more like scavenging ghosts floating over the sand than living men.

Cottonmouth broke off the dart shaft and flung it away. His heart had started to pound. He slipped his arms beneath the girl's knees and shoulders, and clutched her slender body against his bare chest. Blood leaked from her wound, running warmly down his muscular belly and legs, soaking his breechclout. His long, graying black hair fell over her face as he lifted her and rose to his feet.

Disapproving murmurs came from his warriors. The customs of their clan, the Standing Hollow Horn Clan, demanded that enemies killed in battle be left for scavengers. If their relatives did not find the dead within two days, their souls would justly be condemned to wander the earth forever.

Mulberry, a small skinny youth, stepped forward and lifted his torch so that it glared in Cottonmouth's eyes, forcing him to squint. The boy had coiled his black hair into a bun and fixed it with a manatee-bone pin. Blood spattered his legs. "Spirit Elder," he said sternly. "We must leave the dead." He cast a worried look over his shoulder. "The men expect it."

Cottonmouth stared at his warriors. They shifted uncomfortably.

Anger creased Mulberry's young face, hardening his jaw. Boldly, he stepped closer. "Elder, our men do not wish this filth to enter the afterworld and live among our relatives!"

Terse whispers passed back and forth.

"Have you searched the dead for Diver?" Cottonmouth asked. The very softness of his voice held threat. "Or did you allow him to escape?"

Mulberry tried to scowl, but his resolve quickly faltered and he wet his thin lips. "I ... n-no. Not yet."

"He is about my age, four-tens-and-five or five tens of summers. I will return soon. When I do, I will wish to know where he is. You had better have an answer for me."

Cottonmouth walked away slowly, drowning in the sensation of her body pressed against his, the silken feel of her long black hair tumbling down his side. When he had first seen her, he'd stumbled and almost fallen. Only after moments of agony had he realized she must be Morning Glory, daughter of Musselwhite, and not Musselwhite herself—but she looked so much like her mother with those high cheekbones, that turned-up nose, and those fierce brown eyes, that he had been stunned and unable to take his gaze from her.

Cool wind blew across his face. Sister Moon shone so brightly tonight that every blade of grass threw a shadow. As he rounded the northern edge of a clearing, he could make out the gangly shape of a blue heron standing on one foot in the meadow, and a short distance further, a snowy egret.

On the western side of the clearing an ancient oak had fallen long ago, blocking the path. Great crooked branches held the heavy trunk off the ground. He would have to crawl through on his knees, then drag Morning Glory behind him.

Cottonmouth laid her on a soft pile of old leaves and slid under on his stomach. Powerful scents of wet bark and packratdung stung his nose. He emerged on the opposite side and turned.

When he reached through the tangle to grasp her wrist, her fingers had stiffened, raking his arms like curled talons. He tugged. She moved, then stopped abruptly. He jerked harder and heard the sound of ripping fabric as her short tunic tore free from a snag. She came through on her stomach, her face in the dirt. The sight pained him. Blood trickled darkly from her back wound.

Cottonmouth sat down beside her and brushed the dirt from her smooth cheeks and forehead, but drew back his hand when he noticed that one of her eyes had opened. He did not want to look into those eyes again, though tens of times, in a dozen battles, he had lived only for that sight.

He gently spread her hair over her face, then picked her up and carried her on down the trail. When he reached the pond, he lowered her to the green grass, placing her in the same spot her mother had lain two tens and six summers before. Musselwhite had been laughing when they'd loved each other.

Since that day the world had changed. The forest had grown up around their secret places. Deadfall had accumulated, filling the spaces between the trees.

No lovers came here now.

It saddened Cottonmouth, for he could recall very clearly bright days when he and Musselwhite had walked here and felt Brother Earth's age like a warm cape upon their shoulders. This forest had held a stillness so great they could sense the wingbeats of the Spirit birds who flew around them. They had spent days listening to the trees sing. Each had its own distinct voice, and when they sang together, a harmony of extraordinary majesty filled the world.

Cottonmouth's sandals sank into the damp soil as he went in search of sticks to stake Morning Glory's body down. If she had been a member of his clan, he would have wrappedher in the finest blankets, showered her with rare shells and precious stone tools—but she was not, and he hadn't much time. Already his warriors would be growing restless, worrying about his odd behavior, ready to go home to their wives' beds.

Cottonmouth sifted through a pile of deadfall until he had selected nine sticks with sharp points. He tucked them into his belt, and went back to Morning Glory's side.

"I will Sing you to the afterworld," he murmured and began the Death Song in a low voice, just loud enough that the three strands of her braided soul could hear.

I have come with living waters,

To give these healing ways of the Wolves,

these healing ways of the living water Wolves.

Look northward now,

down the pathway of living waters to the

Wolves in the Village of Wounded Souls.

Hear them call you?

They are calling you,

calling, calling.

Gripping her by the ankles, he walked into the pond. Cold water swirled around his knees. Her face sank below the dark surface, but her limp arms floated in a wealth of sinuous black hair. Through that half-open eye she watched him.

He rolled Morning Glory onto her left side, then turned her so that she faced north. "Look northward. Do you see the tunnel that leads to the Village of Wounded Souls? All ponds are openings to that distant afterworld, you know. You have a long way to swim, but there will be Spirit Helpers to guide you. Wait for Alligator, he'll show you the way."

With great care, he tucked her knees against her chest anddrove one of his stakes through her sandal laces to keep her feet in place. The rest of the stakes he drove through the bloody fabric of her tunic, securing her to the bottom of the pond so she would not float free and lose sight of the tunnel. Black hair writhed in slow motion over Morning Glory's face, covering her open eye, but her perfect body lay calm and still beneath the glimmering veil of moonlit water.

She lay so quiet, like a woman dead for tens of tens of summers, rather than a single hand of time.

Cottonmouth waded out of the pond and piled logs around the edges of the grassy strip, blocking the gaps in the deadfall, making certain no animals could enter and drag her from her grave. Sister Moon's luminous face hung high above him. The Shining People had retreated to the far edges of her radiance, patiently waiting for her to sink into the Village of Wounded Souls so their own splendor could burst forth again.

Tomorrow Cottonmouth would order several warriors to return to the battle site and track down and capture each enemy who had escaped.

Two or three days from now, Musselwhite would start to panic, wondering what had happened to her husband and children, fearing the worst. It would not take long for her to mount a search party. She would do it over vehement protests from the Spirit Elders, who would warn her that if she left, the village would be almost defenseless.

But she would leave anyway.

Musselwhite would boldly face the rage of Sun Mother herself to keep her relatives from falling into Cottonmouth's hands. For two-tens-and-six summers his bitterness had been festering, eating him alive. She would rightly fear what tactics he might use to repay that old debt of honor.

He looked up to watch the bats flitting through the darkness,their wings flashing in the moonlight, and wondered what he would do when she came.

The ache in his chest grew overpowering. He dropped his head in his hands, and closed his eyes.

He knew only that he would be waiting for her.

Copyright © 1995 by Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 21, 2012

    The Traditional oral story

    A divergent story from the normal formula of "people" series... Don't worry fans you still have a found object "Turtle bone doll", and you still have a fantastic story with loveable characters. the divergence of the story is that the story is "told" by an elder, orally. Its a hillarious break in the story as the elder looses his train of thought and suggests other stories he has not yet related. It is a unique aspect of the story that makes it so memmorable.

    Musslewhite is a War Leader of the Windy Cove Village, devistated by continual raids and attacks on the village, and its warriors, by her ex-lover (husband) Cottonmouth.

    Cottonmouth is a ruthless, dominering personality, that wants to bring destruction to the world. Cottonmouth in revenge and political domination has attacked all neighboring villages in an attempt to either exterminate the people aposing his beliefs, or encorporating him in his tribe.

    Diver is Musslewhites husband for the past 25 years, after fathering 12 of her children, the devistation of the village and a final attack has left them with only 2 children left.

    Pondwader our hero and dreamer of the story is unique story a true albino, white skinned, white haired, and pink eyed. Pondwader is nearly blind, restricted to long robes for his fair skin clumsy in his travels. But by the visits of Turtle bone doll learns to become one of the greatest dreamers of his time as he learns to flash, thunder and heal the world around him.

    The supporting cast of characters brings humour and intimate momments as the struggle for the survival of the world hangs in the balance.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2010

    Will keep you interseted.

    I really enjoy reading about the native americans history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2004

    Mildly Interesting Story

    I've read most of the 'People of...' series and found this storyline somewhat strained and lacking complexity. The characters and their uniqueness as a people take a bit too long differentiating themselves from any other of the Gear characters in any other Gear novel. However, the story picked up toward the last third of the novel and was interesting enough to read to conclusion.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2001

    a really interesting book

    It was extremely interesting book, and I loved the characters. The author did a really good job in describing events and rituals. It felt like I was there at times. Especially when the 'Lightning' birds came down. Super story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2000

    wonderful book

    I have read quite a few of Gears books and this one was the first one that I read. I could not put it down. It is touching and adventureous. The characters of the book become extremely real. This book is the one that got me hooked to the series. read it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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