Two young, vulnerable prehistoric protagonists travel through an inhospitable land using their survival skills to battle the human and natural foeswho wish to do them in.
After his clan is decimated by a volcanic eruption, Jet—known simply as “the young man” for the novel’s first half—finds a way to survive with the Ice People, a tribe not his own. Among them, he meets a mysterious old woman who teaches him survival but is killed after Jet leads the Ice People in an attack on a forest clan. After the battle, a young woman, later called Kew, fights her way out of a pile of dead bodies and joins him. “They would not make any more war,” readers are told, but Jet and Kew’s task isn’t an easy one. The two form a duo, journeying to a place where they might survive and possibly prosper. At various points, they encounter genuinely unsettling enemies that are the stuff of nightmares: diseased humans who live near a river amid corpses and, later, cave-dwelling “small humanoids with tiny pin-point eyes like moles.” Slabotsky’s decision to present these dangers with little explanation heightens the tension, since readers only know as much as Jet and Kew, and the mystery makes for genuinely engaging reading. The author’s interest in his own formula appears to flag, however, as the narrative draws to a close: Chapters shrink to only a few pages, with Jet and Kew moving through events without seeming to experience them. Slabotsky understands how to have his protagonists earn the reader’s sympathy through adversity, but with so much hardship being thrown their way, the book feels more like a slasher film than a genuinely affecting narrative.
An intriguing—and at times profound and allegorical—novel of prehistoric characters, worthwhile but still in need of development.