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.