No Man's Brother: The Story of Etienne Brulé
Trevor S. Raymond is a teacher and librarian with the Peel Board of Education and editor of Canadian Holmes.
More than 25 years have passed since we had a biography of Etienne Brulé. This extraordinary adventurer and explorer of early New France — the first European to go up the Ottawa River to Georgian Bay, the first to see at least four of the Great Lakes, the first to see the site of Toronto, and the first to follow the Susquehanna River to Chesapeake Bay — has all but disappeared into limbo. No Man’s Brother, based on Brulé’s eventful life, is called “an adventure novel”; and a rousing tale it is, with requisite dollops of blood and torture and a parade of New France personalities: Louis Hebert, Champlain and his seductive young wife, and assorted traders and missionaries, including Jean de Brébeuf.
None of these characters is well developed, and Brulé, who is in fact, a shadowy figure reported to us mainly by those who disliked or opposed him, is in fiction a bit too much of a good thing. In the course of Mr. Ewert’s tale, the illiterate Brulé, who was probably sixteen years old when Champlain brought him to Quebec, waxes poetic, preaches peace to warring Indians, expresses environmental concerns, and offers theological discourse to the missionaries with whom he shares the hospitality of the Hurons. His enemies, meanwhile, have faces “distorted by a satanic joy of blood lust.”
Brulé’s last years are unknown. After his betrayal of Champlain to the English — an event that Ewert makes reasonable and plausible — he was never again seen by white man. The story of his murder by the Hurons, among whom he had lived so long, has always been a puzzle. Ewert’s fictional reconstruction, involving a jealous Huron chieftain whose wife had gone to Brulé’s tent, and Brulé’s patient wait for his inevitable death, is not entirely convincing.
No Man’s Brother, routine though it may be, stands slightly above much of the dreadful pulp that passes these days for historical fiction. It includes two helpful maps.