This debut historical novel offers a Late Pleistocene adventure set on the land bridge connecting Siberia with North America, a huge region known as Beringia.
About 15,000 years ago, as the Ice Age nears its end, Harjo, a member of the Wind Band, has reached 16 summers in age. The intrepid mammoth hunter is ready to begin his Right of Passage journey, which will take him from his winter camp in the inland river valley to the shores of the Great Sea and the small village of his mother’s people, the Canineqmiut. He loads his sled with mammoth pelts and some red chert stone, which is prized for making strong tools, to trade for seal pelts, as the Canineqmiut (or Yupik) are sea mammal hunters. When he returns to the Wind Band, bringing proof of his successful odyssey, he will achieve adulthood. There is one more requirement of the Right of Passage. Harjo must experience a vision, a mystical revelation he can share with the Elders even if he doesn’t yet understand its meaning. The dangerous trek will change Harjo’s life profoundly: He meets and rescues Onna, a young slave girl, who will become his wife, and he single-handedly slays a charging lion. The narrative explores Harjo’s trajectory and the ecological changes beginning to take place on the Mammoth Steppe. Barnette, a field archaeologist, spent time on the Alaskan coast of the Bering Sea. As a member of Oklahoma’s Muscogee, or Creek, Nation, he is familiar with his people’s language and legends. From that base, he gives free rein to his imagination in this engaging story. In great detail, he relates the specifics of tool production, clothing, food preparation, the construction of lodging using mammoth tusks and pelts, and the cultural similarities and differences among the various Muscogee bands. While the intermittent linguistic missteps (“The every present Enemy Warriors”; “They past a large hearth”) are irritating, they are not fatal. But the frequent lengthy and overly explicit sexual passages will limit the book’s appropriateness for some readers.
Exciting hunting scenes and a tender love story with two well-developed characters.