Review: Wild Onions by Sarah Black

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Wild Onions coverStill healing from his many injuries,  both physical and emotional, photographer Robert Mitchell has returned to the cabin he shared with his partner Val to grieve over Val’s death and determine whether he should sell it or hold onto the place full of memories and ghosts.  Just over a year ago, Robert’s life was happy and full.  He had his work, and his long time lover.  And then it was gone. With a mountain of debt looming over him from their hospital bills, Robert is unsure of his future but he still  can’t let go of his past, seeing and hearing Val’s ghost everywhere. Then Robert meets a young Blackfoot indian fly fishing in the Salmon River just outside the cabin and everything changes.

Cody Calling Eagle, a Physical Anthropologist halfway through his dissertation  and temporary wildlife official, wanders into Robert’s life during a day of  fly fishing.  The attraction between them is immediate and magnetic.  Cody’s good natured demeanor and open heart draws the lonely, grieving Robert in, providing the emotional nourishment he is so in need of.   Cody has crushed on Robert for years, and now follows his heart into a relationship he has longed for.

But the cabin and the land it sits on contains old buried secrets just waiting to emerge.  And when an accident lets them out to spread their evil once more, it threatens not only Robert and Cody’s new relationship but even their lives.  It will take everything Robert and Cody have to give and more to save themselves and the community around them from a dark history that has come alive once more.

Wild Onions is remarkable in so many ways.  It combines a variety of tropes so smoothly and effortlessly that the story flows from present day to the tumultuous era of the last of the Indian Wars, from the contemporary to the supernatural and back to the past without so much as a disruptive ripple.  Unless of course the author puts it there.  There are contemporary relationships and love affairs, a supernatural romance, several mysteries, an element of the terrifying and of course an historical background.  All of which are folded into the narrative to give the reader a compelling story set amongst one of the most beautiful landscapes the United States has to offer, western Idaho and the banks of the Salmon River.

I have long been a fan of Sarah Black and Wild Onions is a perfect example why I find her writing so captivating and addictive.  First there is her characters.  Robert Mitchell is a portrait of a man grounded in grief and memories, unable and perhaps unwilling to move beyond his past.  His grief is soft but tangible and its met by the quiet of the cabin and its surroundings.  Sarah Black matches the man to his environment, a monotone of emptiness and solitude that anyone who has lost someone will recognize.  Then she disturbs his static existence by the arrival of Cody Calling Eagle, a Blackfoot doctoral candidate fighting his own ambivalence over his future and passions for history and his people.  Cody is a wonderful character, his warm, open nature and bright shining intelligence warms the page and provides the story with such a charismatic presence that the reader  cannot help but be drawn to him, as is Robert.  It’s a meeting unexpected and yet so natural.  It feels as right to the reader as it does to the men.  And before we know it, we feel intimately connected to Robert and Cody and their relationship.

Here is a small excerpt (another is at the very end).  Robert has just stepped into the river for the first time in over a year, his stance and emotions unsteady:

Robert grinned at him. “Wonder how many times you hear that in the course of a week? We must be in Idaho! I’m Robert Mitchell.”

The man reached for his hand and they shook. “I’m Cody Calling Eagle. So,” he nodded toward the fishing pole in Robert’s hand, “what’s with this? You have a no-hook fishing technique? You’re not a vegetarian, are you? One of those guys who think it’s cruel to eat the poor fish?”

Robert shook his head. “I just don’t know how to do it. Good fishermen have tried to teach me, but it didn’t stick.”

Cody was looking at him with interest now, his warm, dark eyes moving over Robert’s face in a way that was almost unfamiliar, it had been so long. And Robert found himself wondering if this guy might be a friend. The possibility of a new friend, that was a good feeling.

“I knew Val. My grandfather, he was the silversmith.” Cody’s eyes were on the heavy silver and turquoise cuff on Robert’s wrist. “He made your cuff. I remember watching him when he set the turquoise. I sure was sorry to hear about the accident.” He cleared his throat. “You don’t know how to fish, but do you know what to do with a nice piece of speckled trout in a frying pan?”

That small excerpt of the first time Robert and Cody meet eases the reader into the story with the same fluidity of splash and movement of the Salmon River, so much a part of the setting and relationships.  The river is a deep part of  Cody’s nature and its importance is as powerful as the land itself. Sarah Black has lived in Idaho and now resides there again. She is familiar with the geographical landscape of Wild Onions and her love of the area and its native peoples are the bedrock upon which this story rests.

Intertwined with scenes of the growing relationship between Robert and Cody are historical facts and flashbacks to 1882, a time when the native tribes, including the Blackfoot, lost their land, their living and often most of their people to the wars against the U.S. that just concluded.  These scenes form both the basis and the springboard for the supernatural elements that start to appear and are such a hugely emotional and terrifying component in this story.

If history sounds a bit dry, trust me it’s not.  Its inclusion here is so well done, so enthralling and yes, shameful, that you might forget its an actual part of our history as Americans.   The time the author has spent among the various tribes in the United States shows in the in depth knowledge and respect that threads through the story of Wild Onions like the yarn in a tapestry, a part of the whole, subtle and necessary.

Black does justice to the supernatural aspect of her tale as well.  I won’t give anything away but there are some hair-raising, downright scary things going on here, enough to terrorize the reader into leaving the nightlight on at bedtime.  And it has its own grounding in Native American lore too.

All these ingredients combine to present the reader with a tale of romance, love  and terror that won’t allow you to put it down until its concluded and will leave  you thinking long past the last page.  I adored this story.  I loved the men, their relationship, as well as  the community which rallied to save them.  I think you will adore Wild Onions as much as I did.  Grab it up and prepare to fall in love.

Book Details:

ebook, 96 pages approximately
Buy Link: :HERE IT IS!
Published September 23rd 2013


edition language English

Book Blurb and Excerpt:

THE YEAR was 1882, and the last of the native tribes had dropped to their knees and slipped on their yokes under the boots and guns of the US Cavalry. The Blackfoot were the last, and then the buffalo hunt failed. The vast plains were barren and empty, and the people began to starve. Desperation spread like poison across the land. Evil men, seeing their chance, fed on the hunger, ate the clean hearts of the people. The blood that was spilled in 1882 has not been avenged today. The ghosts are waiting for someone to set them free.


Robert looked over to the corner of the porch. Their old fishing poles were leaning against the screen. He carried them back to his chair, started untangling the nylon fishing line. Val’s pole was for serious fishermen, a supple thin Orvis fly rod with a reel full of braided yellow nylon. His pole was cheap, from Wal-Mart, with a soft cork handle and a reel with a sticky thumb button. Val laughed when he saw it, said it was for little boys fishing at reservoirs.

He put Val’s pole back in the corner, carried his down the slope to the river bank. It took him a little while to find his balance again. He didn’t try to get into the water. That would probably be too much for his shaky leg. But after a few casts he got his rhythm again, let the weight fly out low over the water.

There was a splash a bit upriver, and a moment later a young man appeared, walking down the middle of the shallow river from rock to rock in green hip waders, dressed in the dark green uniform of Fish and Wildlife. He had a fishing pole over his shoulder and a woven oak creel. From the weight of it on his shoulder, Robert could see he’d had some luck. He was Indian, Blackfoot, maybe, and his long hair was tied back at his collar. He raised a hand in greeting.

Robert nodded back. “Evening.” He reeled in his line, and the man watched the red and white bobber bouncing across the water in front of him.
The man’s face was impassive, but he blinked a couple of times when he watched the line come out of the water, bobber, lead weight, no hook. No fish. “I guess I don’t need to ask you if you have a fishing license,” the man said. “Since you aren’t really fishing.”

Robert nodded to the creel over the man’s shoulder. “Looks like you’ve had some luck.”

The man eased the basket off his shoulder, dipped it down into the icy river water. “Yes, I sure did.” He slapped the Fish and Wildlife patch on his uniform shirt. “Course, I don’t need no stinkin’ license! Just another example of the generalized corruption of the Federal Government.”

Robert grinned at him. “Wonder how many times you hear that in the course of a week? We must be in Idaho! I’m Robert Mitchell.”

The man reached for his hand and they shook. “I’m Cody Calling Eagle.

By Scattered Thoughts

At over 50, I am ruled by my terriers, my gardens, and my projects. A knack for grubbing about in the woods, making mud pies, and tending to the injured worms, bugs, and occasional bird and turtle growing up eventually led me to working for the Parks. I was a park Naturalist for over 20 years, and observing Nature and her cycles still occupy my hours. From the arrival of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the Spring to the first call of the Snow Geese heading south in the Fall, I am entranced by the seasons. For more about me see my bio on my blog.

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