In this historical novel that’s based in part on real-life figures, magic traps a young Mormon girl in a maze with a Paiute boy, and only a woman from the future can free them.
The tiny settlement of Fruita, a fruit-growing oasis in the Utah desert, is also home to a group of Paiute Native Americans. Carrie Oyler is 13 years old as the story opens around 1918; on her parents’ farm, she plays, does her chores conscientiously, and dreams of adventure, while avoiding bully Neldon Adams. Carrie’s mother, Vera, has gifts as a healer, and Carrie, like her, sometimes receives visions and strange messages from the beyond. When Carrie visits the Paiute village, she encounters Helaku, a young dark-eyed man, and feels an odd sense of familiarity. After Helaku is wrongly accused of a crime and imprisoned in “The Maze”—a labyrinth of slot canyons—with magic spells, Carrie feels him calling for her help. While attempting to come to his aid, she finds herself trapped in The Maze, as well. Together, she and Helaku forge a deep connection as the years roll by; however, they never progress past the age of 14. Carrie has a vision of a woman saying “ren-da,” but it’s many years later before a present-day woman named Renda appears in The Maze, lost and frightened. Mireau (Matsu Kaze, 2017) makes good use of her historical setting, and she provides useful photos, a family tree, and other details of the real-life Oyler family to give a solid grounding to the often otherworldly tale. The novel also does a nice job of depicting the daily life and the difficult choices that Mormons and Paiutes faced in the past, as well as the narrative’s supernatural elements. Many readers will also relate to Renda’s desire for a new start at the age of 60. However, the sickening details of Neldon’s cruelty to animals strike a discordant note.
A well-chosen setting anchors this story of magic and love.