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For many, many pages, Hughes sets up an unusual, pregnant situation and develops its implications in page-riveting, dipping and surging prose. It's 45 years hence on the Canadian prairie, and apart from some ""damaged ones"" who inhabit the outskirts of the ruined City, the only people remaining (plausibly, per the historical introduction) are a band of isolated Indians and a few colonies of Hutterites--opposite in every respect save for their common belief that the holocaust was divine retribution upon the tainted City. But there will emerge another similiarity--for the story concerns two young people, Daughter-of-She-Who-Comes-After, the Indian girl destined to be her people's Healer, and Benjamin Gross, the Hutterite youth destined for a like role among his own; and neither, finally, can escape that fate. But first we see them meeting: he has heard of her healing powers, and comes with some repugnance to ask her help with a plague now threatening a favorite sister. But she--soft, laughing, relaxed--is no ""heathen witch""; and he, though fair-skinned and mounted on a white horse, is not, stammering, one of the mighty Old Ones. She returns with him to the Hutterite colony, and marvels that his people have no songs to record the past, to trace the source of the recurring plague; and she finds the austerity, and the want of trees, oppressive--though, with some nice science-fictional touches, the Hutterites have maintained many of the useful appurtenances once procured from the City. But they have no learning; and since Daughter-of-She-Who-Comes-After is unable to stem a plague of unknown origin, Benjamin determines to go to the City in search of abandoned medical books. She insists on accompanying him, though he tries to turn her back; and the second, lesser half of the book relates the dangers they face, and barely escape, from the ""damaged ones."" A chance encounter eventually produces the answer Benjamin seeks; and the two, after kissing, separate. It's nearly mawkish then, and practically pulp melodrama just before; but that strong, distinctive opening may override other considerations for the engrossed reader.

Pub Date: March 16th, 1981
Publisher: Atheneum