"Rollins' world is a raw, frightening place but also one full of beauty, mystery, and portent."– Kirkus Reviews
In this fantastical prehistoric drama, a tribal chief struggles to make amends for past transgressions.
In the last moments of his life, the cantankerous, unnamed chief of an unnamed tribe makes angry comments about the weaklings all around him, the burdens of family, and fellow tribesmen. When he finally dies, a young woman greets him in the afterlife and informs him that his ancestors refuse to meet him due to his evil ways, which included murder. He’s given another chance, though: he’s reincarnated as an orphan boy named Breygan, with his past life a shadowy memory that only reveals itself obliquely, in his dreams. At the age of 11, he meets Eska, a young girl who’s also an orphan, and returns with her to her village. But when she later grows close to a male rival, Breygan is overcome with jealousy, pushes her off a cliff, and flees. Soon, he finds a sad, motley group living in a cave, only half alive due to past sorrows. Breygan convinces them to leave the cave with him; they embark together on an adventure and meet Ainza, a woman also plagued by her past. Her brothers, Ortzi and Arginn, intend to kill Breygan as a sacrifice to lure the sun back, and they pursue him when he escapes. Meanwhile, Ainza reveals her troubled history, which involves a tribal leader. This is the fourth installment of the Misfits and Heroes series by Rollins (Past the Last Island, 2015, etc.) set some 14,000 years ago, in what is today northern Spain. Like its predecessors, the tale seamlessly combines elements of the real and the magical, conjuring a world that is often bizarre but also artfully plausible. The plot can be very difficult to follow, however, as it’s full of dreamlike sequences. It’s also so laden with heavy-handed symbolism that it can seem, at times, like an overly didactic parable. However, the drama is consistently gripping throughout, and the way that Rollins braids the multiple storylines together is often ingenious.
An imaginative but challenging tale about the power of the past.
In Rollins’ sweeping Pleistocene epic, seafarers meet on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
This is the third in the author’s Misfits and Heroes series, which chronicles the grand migration of two groups—one from West Africa and another from across the Pacific—which land on opposite coasts of the isthmus. Rollins’ world is a raw, frightening place but also one full of beauty, mystery and portent. Her cast is made up of brutes and dreamers, as well as shamans, stone carvers, questers, herbalists and lovers. These ancient people show familiar emotions of longing, inadequacy, jealousy and envy, as well as some of the sunnier aspects of human nature. The two clans are drawn together when one of them discovers a carving in a rock wall behind a waterfall, interpreting it as a gesture of openness. But there are other, less-companionable types on the isthmus, including vicious imps, unbridled giants and terrifyingly painted warriors. Not all goes smoothly between or among the clans, which makes for some nasty encounters. What lifts the story out of its squabbles is Rollins’ talent for evoking a wild landscape where the strange and inexplicable lurk around each bend; for example, one character says, “After the mud, scorpions showed up—everywhere....We were stuck up in the rocks when we saw them coming toward us.” Magical moments abound, and they can be very sharp; a scene where a crow rebuilds a human skeleton is a fine example, as is one in which words float out of a character’s mouth as moths. However, Rollins’ storytelling has a plainspoken manner, giving it all a sense of believability, and she makes even the most pathetic characters sympathetic. Human failings—a lust for gold, narcissism, spousal abuse—are balanced by acts of kindness and forgiveness, and great forces, including angry mastodons, keep the humans in check.
A fantasy tale that artfully blends the crude and the enchanted.
An epic of high drama, set 14,000 years ago against the days of spirits and strange happenings.
In this ancient fantasy, Rollins fashions a saga from the great migrations that drove people from Australia and eastern Asia to make their way across Polynesia, Melanesia and the great Pacific. Rollins portrays smoky, pungent images of village life: the fortuitous saving of a disfigured child marked for death, the importance of sacred stones and heavenly music, a time when royals voted critical decisions by a count of eggs. Shamans squeeze vital signs out of the ether, but they steer clear of self-importance. For example, one shaman doesn’t fudge his ignorance to save his ego: “Raidu came over and looked at the tray. ‘What do the omens say?’ Owl Man didn’t look up. ‘It’s difficult to say.’ ‘Perhaps a better shaman could read them.’ ‘Perhaps,’ Owl Man replied.” The world Rollins creates is fully alive—“all in one piece with no boundaries between items, somewhere between the world of people and the world of dreams”—though hardly benevolent; a great geologic cataclysm shatters the peoples’ lives and sends them on their eastward quest, into a sea Rollins makes achingly wide and deep. This work follows on the heels of Rollins’ previous work (Misfits and Heroes, 2010), and there’s much of the same sense of time’s passage, as characters grow into themselves and enough years pass for volcanoes to level islands and entire fleets of citizens to flee. Rollins is a writer with a touch for complexity and range, with plenty of meaty detail in her pages and a considerable stable of fleshed-out characters, but she keeps it all surely in hand. She also has a talent for bringing realism to a world where all things are possessed with some sense of spirit, and a pervasive magic guides one’s destiny as surely as willful decisions.
An exciting story set in an imaginative, capably rendered prehistoric world.
Rollins tells an epic tale of ancient conflict, migration, spirit-world mystery and love.
The story is set in 12,000 B.C. in the forests and on the grassy steppes of West Africa. From the get-go, Rollins establishes a lovely, haunting tone: “It was the smell that had brought him here, to this village, the complicated, heavy smell of men and women and children.” Naaba is an outcast and a wanderer, and in this village he will find a like soul in Asha, who has a deep affinity for the watery realm, but has so far had her yearnings thwarted. They quit the village and set out to find a home. They move through a world in flux—“There were powerful places in every community: certain hills or lakes or trees that held special energy… but this was different somehow; it was a deliberate manipulation of that power.” These early humans learn that power can be diabolical and that the gods of the proto-myths, once protective, could be just as cruelly fickle, happily killing humans “not for anything they’d done, but only because the gods found it entertaining…. [I]t was a difficult balance, to acknowledge the power of the gods and yet maintain the importance of individual life.” A dynamic tension runs through the quest, a push-pull of forces—cooperative captives, murderous love, surprising intersections of principal players—as Naaba and Asha move forward, still following their noses, through a number of different communities that Rollins draws with detailed color, and the pair gather a cast of characters around them, fashioned with panache by Rollins into breathing entities with unforeseen weaknesses and unexpected strengths. They also learn to sail and ride a hellacious storm to the Antilles. The variety of settings—brutal war scenes, sporting contests, mysterious happenings in sacred places, the spookiness of what lies beneath the ocean’s surface, island biogeography—are meticulously plotted, the language precise but not prim, with an intriguing contrapuntal melody between the cadenced formality of Dashona, the storyteller within the text, and the liquid nature of Rollin’s narrative.
The kind of dangerous book that makes you want to remove most of your clothing, climb in a dugout and just start paddling.