A YA sci-fi adventure follows a girl whose clan worships a deadly river and survives using mysterious technology.
Fourteen-year-old Margole lives in the village of Mellansh, on the planet Hera. Her people consist of women and children who cultivate growths called fixers, which allow the clan to digest Hera’s plant and animal life. They trade fixed food with nomadic groups of men who hunt game and travel among female-run villages to conduct the Eros Ceremonies (to bring new babies into the world). Margole’s village is ruled by her aunt, the chieftess Hilde. While the men travel using Noku, a powerful river that occasionally floods, Hilde and the chieftesses of other villages employ the rasken. These disc-shaped objects, left by space-faring ancestors who colonized Hera, allow the wearer to teleport. One day, Margole and her twin brother, Jaeca, explore some caves and find rasken of their own. Jaeca discards his, but Margole keeps hers. Back in the village, Hilde finally delivers a daughter to carry on her ruling line (and inherit her rasken); baby Rayleen, however, is severely deformed. Meanwhile, Margole must cope with joining the Eros Ceremonies for the first time and losing her brother to nomadic manhood. Maxwell (The Perfect Child, 2013) has crafted an elegant, though tumultuous, realm in Hera and a bold heroine in Margole. Watching her evolution during the fracturing of her people’s way of life—thanks to Noku’s wrath and Hilde’s precarious mental health—is riveting. Through much of the narrative, Maxwell keeps the workings of the rasken vague, though readers learn that “Most of the ancients’ [other] tools had either been abandoned or were forbidden because of the dangers involved.” Tender moments arise from the friction between partners discovering love and a society that doesn’t support long-term companionship. As for Margole’s emotions, her mother says, “You must learn to hide them.” Maxwell’s spare use of sci-fi in a primitive setting maximizes the appeal of both elements.
A novel that delivers a shining example of worldbuilding on another planet, strengthened by tightly executed twists.