Dara has always been an outsider among the peaceable Shamra, but when her people are enslaved by the Trocs and their predatory Shriek birds, only she can lead the Resistance.
Hoffman (Hungry Eyes, 1997, etc.) ventures into young-adult territory in the first of a trilogy based in a world inhabited by human/animal hybrids with very human problems. The blue-eyed, brown-skinned Shamra have marsupial-like pouches, froglike tongues and a happy, communal culture guided by a priesthood that fosters sharing, a casteless social structure, celebration and the complete subservience of adult females to their husbands. Orphaned Dara is a brown-eyed tomboy gifted with prophetic visions. On her adoptive sister Pilla’s wedding day, their isolated domain is invaded by the Trocs, who resemble parasitic worms and quickly enslave the defenseless Shamra. Dara and a few others flee to the swamps, where Dara is anointed the prophesied One who will lead them to freedom—even though she is a female. When Pilla and her betrothed Wren mysteriously disappear, Dara realizes that she must follow her visions to seek help in the unknown lands beyond the surrounding desert. Accompanied only by her second-in-command, Heber, and her Bauble, Tyler (all Shamra have caterpillarlike companions that they carry in their pouches, but only a few Shamra realize that they can talk to them), Dara sets out to find the birdlike allies she has seen in her dreams attacking the Trocs’ subservient Shrieks. Meanwhile, Wren’s brother Glondel has discovered that the Trocs have much more in common with maggots than one might imagine. And treachery always lurks in the wings. Hoffman has constructed a world that is just alien enough to intrigue, yet familiar enough to entice. He has a didactic agenda, encouraging female agency and questioning religious dogma. However, as a novel, the story relies too often on authorial narration rather than showing the characters’ interactions, and the climactic battle is surprisingly flat, although the action may amp up in the later volumes.
A promising beginning, but readers will have to wait for the next volume of the Shamra Chronicles to see if that promise is fulfilled.