The novel is 813 pages in length, approximately 272,020 words, divided into three "books" covering the protagonist's life from his birth in 1838 to just after the Civil War in 1865. Each "book" opens with a brief prologue in which the old storyteller, Blustery Bill McGee, sets the mood.
British archaeologist and Egyptologist Jonathan Ethan Grimstone and his Egyptian wife Neti enter the town of Hawk's Run, Pennsylvania, in the winter of 1838. He is in search of the remains of what archaeologists today call the Monongahela people who "disappeared" before the arrival of the white men. He learns from an old Seneca, Joseph Long House, that descendants whom he calls the Sun Hawk People still live high in the Allegheny Mountains, but Long House refuses to guide him into the mountains because of the time of year, superstitious dread, and an experience he had with the young grey-eyed shaman of those people when he was a boy. Grimstone, lost in his quest, goes anyway, taking his wife. Their guide, Oldolf Rambert, dies in a mishap, their supplies are lost, and they have to find shelter from a blizzard in a cave. This is when Grimstone discovers that Neti has been hiding her pregnancy, not wishing to interfere with the quest on which the professor has been obsessively focused. She gives birth to a grey-eyed boy and dies from blood loss. The man is left there by the dying red embers of the fire cradling his infant child in his arms, slowly freezing to death.
It is at this point that the story takes on a mythic character when a she-wolf and her pack, in the company of a great hawk, take possession of the child, but not before the man can pass on his most prized possession--an ancient Egyptian dagger, the hilt carved in the shape of the hawk head of the sun god Horus the Avenger.
Although cared for by the she-wolf and watched over by the hawk, the child actually raises himself, learning many things by observing from cover the Sun Hawk People, who regard the elusive child as a "savage spirit." Eventually the boy is brought into the village of the Indian band after he is apparently mortally wounded by a black bear that has been driven mad by the musket ball of a careless white hunter. In saving the life of Two Doves Dancing, a beloved young brave who is "blessed by two spirits" (gay), the boy's chest, left of centre, is punctured by one of the bear's claws while his "mother", the she-wolf, is killed. Old Sly Wolf, the medicine man, led by a dream, witnesses the event and is convinced that this boy, with the same unusual grey eyes that he himself has and apparently the ability to hide his heart (the boy was born with his heart right of centre), is a born shaman and the heir to his position promised by the Great Spirit (or Manitou).
At first it is difficult for the boy, named the Grim One by the shaman because of his somber nature, to adjust to life with the Sun Hawk people, but in time he becomes a fully accepted member of the relatively small band. Two Doves Dancing becomes his best friend, among many others like Barking Dog, the son of the war chief, and he learns much from Sly Wolf, Grey Eagle the war chief, and a wise old woman named Still Waters Shining, the peace chief, as well as the only white man the Sun Hawk People associate with, the old red haired French trader named Preuet Rousset. He also makes among the Sun Hawk People his first enemy, an extremely cruel young brave called Black Hand who comes to envy and hate the Grim One.
The Grim One learns much from the Sun Hawk people, and he has many adventures, the most significant of which is his Vision Quest. Here he suffers many things, and while sitting in a circle atop a flat topped hill in a strange blasted wasteland in the Allegheny Mountains he watches as Wind and Rain, Thunder and Lightning fight for possession of his spirit until he declares that only he may possess it. He is tempted by "the lying spirit", a shepherd who cannot enter his circle and gradually reveals the fact that he is leading his flock of sheep to be sheared and slaughtered. Trickster appears, he is tricked by the Grim One, but returns from time to time in the young man's dreams, and finally the brave meets his Guardian Spirit.
Among the many things that happen in Book One, Black Hand kills Two Doves Dancing and in revenge the Grim One emasculates the murderer with his strange dagger. Black Hand is then exiled, and away from his people he grows increasingly more insane and vile. The Grim One marries Laughing Deer, they have a child they name Iron Knife, and when it looks as if life will go on blissfully, the child dies of smallpox, brought into the village by a deserting Confederate soldier. It is 1862, and while the War Between the States has been raging for a year, the Sun Hawk People have been isolated from the conflict high in the mountains.
The Grim One, depressed, unwisely decides it is time to learn more about the white men Rousset and others have told him so much about. (He assumes he is half white and half Indian, and his assumption is not as far off the mark as it may seem.) The Grim One leaves his wife and village behind, vowing to return within three months, and he descends the mountain, following the Frenchman's directions to the Union camp of the 93rd Pennsylvania.
A warrior by nature, the Grim One decides that this time of war among the whites presents a perfect opportunity to learn more about them, and consequently more about himself and his purpose for being. With some conflict right from the start, he joins the Federal ranks, translating his Indian name into English simply as Grimm. He displays his abilities as a warrior, learning quickly the ways of a soldier, and soon makes many friends among the young Union soldiers. Lieutenant Colonel William J. Patterson quickly learns to admire and trust Grimm, but it takes much longer for Master Sergeant Orrin MacCleary to accept the "injun."
Although Grimm is placed in the cavalry it is some time before he is invited to join the ranks of an elite unit headed by Captain Randolph Harrison. Grimm, however, possessing a subtle sixth sense and unwilling to leave the friends he has made behind, declines the invitation, much to the annoyance of Harrison.
At Antietam and Fredericksburg Grimm distinguishes himself, but it is not until the Battle of Gettysburg, his stay in the army already much longer than he had planned, feeling responsible for his new friends, that things long brewing come to a head. Not only does Grimm fight alongside George Armstrong Custer against the Confederacy (which is not to be the last time the two men will meet in the series), but during a solitary mission to infiltrate the Confederate ranks Grimm discovers that his suspicions are true and that Harrison's Raiders have been dealing with the South, that it was Harrison who was responsible for providing Stuart with the captured Union supplies that he possessed when the Confederate unit finally showed up in Gettysburg. However, before this can be reported to Patterson, Grimm is wounded. Things get hectic and Grimm finds himself waiting at the Angle for Pickett's Charge. Grimm believes that the intelligence he gathered has been passed on, but realizes that something has gone wrong when Harrison rides up to him, knowing that his secret dealings have been discovered, and he asks "Are you ready to die, soldier?" During the battle Harrison attempts to shoot Grimm in the back, but is thwarted when a young friend of Grimm's purposely takes the bullet meant for him after which MacCleary comes out of the smoke and dust firing his pistol at the traitorous captain he once admired.
Harrison and his Raiders escape, friends die, the war goes on. From time to time Grimm visits the Sun Hawk People on furloughs, speaking with his people about the whites, the blacks, and bigotry even among his own people.
After Gettysburg Grimm is among those soldiers who are sent to New York to help control the riots going on in that city, some men protesting conscription while the Irish and former slaves struggle, competing for the same jobs. It gives him a chance to see a large city and meet Emily Patterson, the commander's wife, before returning to Pennsylvania to witness Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
It is 1865, the war has ended, and Captain Grimm is ready to finally return to his people and to his wife, but before he does he accepts one last mission. After Gettysburg, Harrison's Raiders became guerrilla fighters and finally outlaws, every trace of loyalty and honour lost. Killing innocent civilians, Harrison's Raiders were deemed an "embarrassment" to the United States Army, and Grimm, with MacCleary as his loyal second in command, head up a detail to bring Harrison and his men to justice. The detail is ambushed, concidentally in the same desolate place where Grimm experienced his Vision Quest, and everyone is murdered, while Grimm is left for dead, buried under a pile of rock exploded from the side of a hill. Trapped under the rockfall, Grimm learns that Harrison's Raiders picked up a new member, Black Hand, and the mad Indian of course has his own agenda--he intends to use Harrison's Raiders to exact his revenge upon the people who exiled him.
With the help of his Guardian Spirit, in an eerie turn of events, Grimm frees himself, follows Harrison's trail, and discovers that his village has been utterly destroyed. Everyone is murdered. Sly Wolf has been scalped. Laughing Deer lies beaten, raped, and murdered, the new child that she was carrying torn from her womb and one breast slashed from her violated body. Devastated, Grimm is unaware that while he kneels on the ground Harrison's Raiders, who have been lying in wait, surround him. He is bound and set on a horse with a rope around his neck. Before he is hung Harrison once more asks, "Are you ready to die, soldier?"
Once again left for dead, a bullet intended for his heart, left of centre, fired from a distance by a nervous outlaw who prides himself in his marksmanship, Grimm barely survives, thanks to tricks he learned from Sly Wolf and the arrival of the Frenchman who nurses him back to health.
Grimm then follows the trail of murder and destruction Harrison's Raiders leave behind, at one point saving an escaped slave named Jubal Freeman from being strung up, and assisted for a while by Jubal he catches up with some of the Raiders and finally the bulk of them in a town in the Dakota Territory called Renunciation. It is situated where the Missouri meets the White River. Here he also encounters Sam Loffmayor and his hired guns, helps the townspeople redeem themselves, and befriends a young Blustery Bill McGee who from that day on follows the adventures of the dark rider.
After the fight in Renunciation where Grimm's life is saved by Jubal and Black Hand finally meets his end, Grimm goes out alone into the Badlands to finish his job and kill Harrison and his remaining four men...one by one. The whole thing is watched from a distance by fascinated Lakota warriors and at one point, one night, Grimm has a rudimentary conversation with one Tatanka Iotake...Sitting Bull.
At the foot of the Black Hills, after it appears as if Grimm has finally grown disgusted with killing and has ridden off, Harrison, now alone and completely mad, laughs wildly as his dehydrated body is pelted with rain. He's won! He may be the last of Harrison's Raiders, but he's alive! Then he hears the metallic sound of a revolver being cocked, looks up, and there on his dapple grey that he calls Ghost, sits the ominous dark rider. "Are you ready to die, soldier?" Grimm asks then pulls the trigger of his Colt .44 and ends Harrison's life.
The story ends with Grimm following the shadowy form of an Indian on a horse in the heavy rain, his purpose now known to him. He is an Avenger; a dispenser of grim justice.
I intend to take Grimm all the way from his birth in 1838 to his death (?) in 1904 in about ten novels, each perhaps about 300 to 350 pages in length. There will always be both a gritty realistic element to the stories and a strong mystical element. In this first book, for instance, Grimm encounters Trickster more than once, and the Shadow Man, while Black Hand is tormented either by phantoms of his disturbed mind or the spirit of Two Doves Dancing.
In the first sequel to GRIMM JUSTICE we will find Grimm with the Lakota (Sioux), among whom he has lived and fought, having mourned for three years the deaths of Laughing Deer and the Sun Hawk People. His closest friend will be the spiritual warrior Sitting Bull, and he will have a strained relationship with the tempestuous Crazy Horse.
As in all future GRIMM JUSTICE novels there will be flashbacks to the time he lived among the Sun Hawk People and fought in the Civil War, giving me a chance to further develope characters who actually died in the first novel.
In the second novel he will again team up with Jubal Freeman, meet and fall in love with a Chinese woman, encounter an Indian who may be a shapeshifter, meet a feisty and very capable young English woman searching for answers regarding the disappearance long ago of her father and his second wife, and the briefest encounter with a dark European criminal, never seen in the daylight, who becomes Grimm's Moriarty.
In future stories Grimm will end up on a cattle drive, many of the cowboys being black, one the young son of his old lost friend Jubal, another a young man named Bill McGee. He will again encounter Custer before this and be charged by him with desertion, building hatred between the two men. In yet another book Grimm will get involved in the Battle of Little Bighorn...taking the side of his friends the Lakota, struggling with the internal conflict created by now making war against the uniform he once wore.
In the last book of the series he will go up against a man who virtually owns the law, discover that his old ways of dealing with injustice will not be tolerated in "modern" times, be damned by fingerprints, and hung...again. Of course, such minor inconveniences as this have never stopped Grimm in the past.