Kirkus Star


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With this first in a trilogy, a new contender in the prehistoric fiction sweeps arrives on the scene--and quickly climbs to the top of the iceberg. Harrison, a student of Native American languages, researched an archeological dig on an island in the Bering Sea to give verisimilitude to this involving--if slightly uneven--debut novel, set in Ice Age America. Harrison begins by assembling the elements of a very alien world--its various tribes (warlike Short Ones, gentle First Men, and Whale Hunters), their belief system, which holds that death takes men's spirits on a journey to the Dancing Lights, and the artifacts of their daily life. The beguiling protagonist here, little Chagak, is out gathering berries when the Short Ones arrive in ikyaks to massacre the village of First Men--and only Chagak's duty to care for her surviving baby brother, Pup, keeps her from following family and friends to the Dancing Lights. She sets out in an ik to find her grandfather, chief of the Whale Hunters, but lands instead on a lonely beach inhabited by the hermit carver Shuganan. Though Pup dies, Chagak and the old man become fast friends who struggle to survive when the Short One, Man-Who-Kills, arrives, holding them hostage and bullying Shuganan into giving him Chagak as a wife. Shortly after Man-who-Kills rapes Chagak, Shuganan manages to do him in, and the two are eventually joined by a small band of First Men, led by the stalwart hunter Kayugh. Together, they warn the Whale Hunters of an impending attack by the Short Ones--after which the ice around Chagak's heart melts and she agrees to become Kayugh's wife. What is remarkable here is that Harrison has managed to create a rich inner life for Chagak, even while she has her hands full creating a distant time and place. Although loosely plotted, Harrison's first is a companionable, and frequently moving, story--providing you can keep your suks, chigadaxes, and ikyaks sorted out.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1990
Publisher: Doubleday