Hawk of the Wilderness

by William L. Chester
Series: Kioga 1
Reviewed date: 2021 Jun 4
Rating: 2
287 pages
cover art

Kioga! When you want a jungle hero story but can't afford name-brand Tarzan: Kioga!

A white man raised by American Indians and bears on a long-lost continent of Nato'wa. He is Kioga, the Snow Hawk. He does the basic Tarzan stuff, learning to live in the forest, leaping from branch to branch through the leafy canopy, becoming the greatest denizen of the forest. He grows beyond his Shoni Indian upbringing, falls in love with a white girl--Beth--who coincidentally arrives on Nato'wa just as Kioga is coming into adulthood but before he can take young Heladi as his Shoni wife.

Chester is a good writer, a decent storyteller, but not great at weaving a compelling book-length plot. The action meanders here and there, leaving loose threads and unexplored paths. I don’t think Chester wrote this with a plan in mind. It’s just events that happen, not a plot moving toward a resolution. The story tightens up a little over halfway through when Kioga's love interest, Beth, shows up.

It's not a bad book overall. The biggest missed opportunity is the villain, or rather the lack of one. Every time Chester sets up a good compelling villain, he kills him off immediately. It's hard to build tension when the bad guy immediately gets offed. This happens first with Yellow Weasel, the leader of the Long Knife Society. He's a great character and Chester builds him up as a master villain, and then in the next chapter he's summarily killed.

Chester does it again later with the pirate. He sets up Salerno as a villain and makes sure we know he has designs on Beth. Then four pages later—boom, he’s dead. Killed by his compatriot Mendez. It's a mistake to build up a villain, then casually kill him off like some mere sidekick.

I also think it was a mistake for Chester to have the Shoni acclaim Kioga as chief rather than have Kioga fight for the position and earn it. I recall Tarzan fighting for his right to be chief, not having it bestowed on him because it was convenient to the author.

A nitpick: I found it amusing and a bit jarring for Chester to mention an "inactive" volcano that rumbles, belches sulphur, with "bubbling ejecta" that runs slowly down as "liquid lava." That sounds like an active volcano to me. It's not a big deal, but that should have been caught by an editor.

Speaking of editors, in chapter XI, Kioga boards a wrecked ship and is confounded by a simple doorknob. He's never seen one before, and he bashes the door down. Later, in chapter XXIV, he has no trouble operating a doorknob. That discrepancy bothered me. It would be easy to explain or rewrite, but both Chester and his editors missed it. (Or, conceivably, I missed the explanation.)

Chapter-by-chapter plot summary

I. Ooh. There's a framing device, and it's one of those found-manuscript stories. Not terribly original, but the conceit was--is--common in this genre.

II. Lincoln Rand, his wife Helena, and his Indian friend Mokuyi (aka Woodman Running-Wolf) are shipwrecked on an unknown island in the Arctic.

III. Kidnapped by Indians! But they turn out to be friendly. They are Shoni and are a lost tribe who have no knowledge of the wider world, of Canada or America or of white Europeans.

IV. Baby Kioga is born, his name mean Snow Hawk. Enemy warriors overrun Hopeka and kill his parents before being driven off. Mokuyi and his native wife take in the boy.

V. Mokuyi teaches Kioga to be a warrior. The other children hate him. He befriends a bear cub named Aki, then later runs away into the jungle with Aki.

VI. Kioga spends a year with the bears, learning to climb and leap from tree to tree and to swim and fight. He becomes a real jungle man. Then he returns to Hopeka.

VII. Kioga hones his jungle skills: tracking, hunting, recognizing smells.

VIII. Kioga visits the plains and watches the Wa-Kanek tribe. He learns about horses, and he steals several ropes and teaches himself to throw a lasso. His bear family is remarkably patient with him.

IX. He makes a grappling hook and learns to swing and climb. He raises a puma from a cub, and makes pets of a hawk, a wolf, a moose, a skunk, and a crow.

X. Kioga explores a shipwreck and salvages books, newspapers, gold coins, and a knife.


XII. The jealous medicine man Yellow Weasel and his Long-Knife Society murder Mokuyi and Awena, and try to frame Kioga. They also plan to kill the chief, Sawamic. Kioga finds out, escapes into the jungle, and swears revenge on them.

XIII. Yellow Weasel attacks Kioga and loses his life. The Long-Knives hunt Kioga in the wilderness but he escapes.

XIV. Kioga lives with the bears again. He fights. He hunts. He grows and learns. He sees a gigantic elephant. Three years pass. Still he wants revenge.

XV. Kioga avenges himself on the Long Knife Society. He becomes a legend among the Shoni. He kills a tiger, and he renews his childhood friendship with Kias the Deaf, who is deaf no more.

XVI. Kioga explores more shipwrecks and retrieves a chest of jewels and gold.

XVII. The bears all meet for a great concourse. Kioga asserts his authority and leads the bears to richer hunting grounds. He is the king of the bears, but only because he works himself like a slave to secure food for them. Bit of a chump, this Kioga.

XVIII. Loyal Shoni warriors pursue the traitorous Long-Knives into the forest domain of the bears. The bears attack them. The bears win. The Shoni retreat, taking the surviving Long-Knives captive.

XIX. Sawamic is dead. The bickering seven Shoni tribes proclaim Kioga as their chief, and literally bury the hatchet. Kioga announces that the United Seven Tribes of Shoni will make war on the Wa-Kanek.

XX. The United Seven Tribes of the Shoni defeat the Wa-Kanek. Kioga turns his attentions to the beautiful young Heladi, but declines to take her as a wife. They are of two different races, he tells her, and Kioga intends one day to leave and seek the Land-Where-the-Sun-Goes, the homeland of his parents.

XXI. The ship Alberta arrives. On board are pirates, who are fighting with the crew. Captain Allen Kendle, his fiancée Beth La Salle, and her brother Daniel. Kioga watches from shore as the pirates’ leader Manuel Salerno parleys with Kendle.

XXII. The pirates kidnap Beth. Mendez kills Salerno. Kioga rescues Beth and takes her to a safe place deep in the forest.

XXIII. Kendle and Dan lead an expedition ashore to rescue Beth. Kioga guards and cares for Beth in his forest hideout. She tells him of America. He begins to fall in love.

XXIV. Kioga boards Alberta secretly, looks around, avoids the crew and slips away back into the forest.

I’m not sure what his plan was, nor do I know where Chester is taking this story. Truly I don’t think Chester knows either. This episode is an excuse to show off how stealthy and clever Kioga is.

XXV. Kioga learns that the Shoni have captured Kendle and taken them to Hopeka. He promises Beth that he will rescue Kendle and return them both to the ship.

XXVI. Kioga rescues Kendle, bids Heladi farewell, eludes the Shoni by navigating dangerous river rapids, and returns Kendle and Beth to the ship.

XXVII. Kioga carries a chest of gold, jewels, and the Cherokee’s logbook to the Alberta. Kioga hunts. He kills a tiger. Kendle agrees to take Kioga to America. Kioga guides the ship Alberta past the rocks and away from Nato’wa.

XXVIII. Alberta get stuck in the ice. The crew abandon ship and make their way across the ice. Kioga antagonizes Kendle, who needles Beth about him. Kendle is jealous and feels threatened by Kioga. Food runs out, starvation is imminent. Kioga spears a walrus.

XXIX. The whaler Bearcat rescues the survivors of the Alberta. Kioga never returned from hunting and is left behind. (Kendle lied about having seen him.) Beth is heartbroken. Munro hears the news and goes to find and rescue Kioga, that is, Lincoln Rand, Jr.

XXX. Kioga makes a canoe of wood and walrus hide. He travels the ice floes. He fight a polar bear.

XXXI. Munro rescues Kioga, who explains his origins and gives Munro the Cherokee’s logbook and the film negatives.

XXXII. Munro introduces Kioga to modern society. He blends in well, until he is accosted by robbers. His warrior instincts kick in, and he savagely beats the assailants and finds himself arrested by the police and locked in a cell.

XXXIII. Kendle is ill and dying, and lost his money in the 1929 crash. He sees a newspaper article about Kioga’s arrest but conceals it from Beth. Dan sees the same article and gets Kioga released. However, Kioga, sure that Beth will choose Kendle, leaves to return to Nato’wa. Beth, betrayed by Kendle, is now fully committed to Kioga. She will follow after him. The end.

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