Rollins tells an epic tale of ancient conflict, migration, spirit-world mystery and love.
The story is set in 12,000 B.C. in the forests and on the grassy steppes of West Africa. From the get-go, Rollins establishes a lovely, haunting tone: “It was the smell that had brought him here, to this village, the complicated, heavy smell of men and women and children.” Naaba is an outcast and a wanderer, and in this village he will find a like soul in Asha, who has a deep affinity for the watery realm, but has so far had her yearnings thwarted. They quit the village and set out to find a home. They move through a world in flux—“There were powerful places in every community: certain hills or lakes or trees that held special energy… but this was different somehow; it was a deliberate manipulation of that power.” These early humans learn that power can be diabolical and that the gods of the proto-myths, once protective, could be just as cruelly fickle, happily killing humans “not for anything they’d done, but only because the gods found it entertaining…. [I]t was a difficult balance, to acknowledge the power of the gods and yet maintain the importance of individual life.” A dynamic tension runs through the quest, a push-pull of forces—cooperative captives, murderous love, surprising intersections of principal players—as Naaba and Asha move forward, still following their noses, through a number of different communities that Rollins draws with detailed color, and the pair gather a cast of characters around them, fashioned with panache by Rollins into breathing entities with unforeseen weaknesses and unexpected strengths. They also learn to sail and ride a hellacious storm to the Antilles. The variety of settings—brutal war scenes, sporting contests, mysterious happenings in sacred places, the spookiness of what lies beneath the ocean’s surface, island biogeography—are meticulously plotted, the language precise but not prim, with an intriguing contrapuntal melody between the cadenced formality of Dashona, the storyteller within the text, and the liquid nature of Rollin’s narrative.
The kind of dangerous book that makes you want to remove most of your clothing, climb in a dugout and just start paddling.