In honor of my just-released prehistoric fiction, The Quest for Home, I want to share with you two great novels in that genre I have recently enjoyed:
by Sue Harrison
Sue Harrison’s The Storyteller Trilogy (Open Road Media 2013) is the three-book tale of Alaska 8,000 years ago in the area of present-day Iliamna Lake. Life was cold, difficult, and always a struggle but the people were earnest, hard-working, and with many of the same desires as you and I. Two tribes who had historically been friendly find themselves on the verge of war. Chakliux, a man born with webbed feet, is abandoned by his birth mother, adopted into another tribe who comes to believe he has special abilities to bring good luck and prosperity to his tribe. But when Chakliux travels in search of a wife, several people in the village are unexpectedly killed, a rare occurrence in those freezing climates. From then on, Chakliux spends much of the three books fighting problems, rising above them, and then working earnestly for his tribe, trying to treat people well despite their attitudes of him. Above all else, he struggles to come to terms with a mother who abandoned him but weaves her way into his adult life when it seems to her benefit.
“Coincidentally, when she is around, people die too. More than that, promises are betrayed, evil is taken and given–all in the name of what is for the good of the tribe.”
Tribal life ran according to rites, taboos, and superstitions. This sort of world, without science or laws (except those laid out by curses and superstitions), becomes often a dark difficult existence ruled by the basic need to survive:
“…lifted until she brought a root to the surface. Using the stick and her hands, she pulled until she had two arm-lengths of root above ground, then she cut it off and followed it away from the tree, coiling as she walked, pulling, until the root was thin enough to snap.”
“It was sea otter, she was sure, with a ruff of wolverine fur and cuffs banded with caribou hide, scraped and softened until it was almost white. The back of the parka came down in a wide pointed tail of some strange spotted skin, a stiff-haired pelt unlike any K’os had ever seen.”
“Aqamdax worked quickly, cutting meat, retouching or exchanging her knife blade when it dulled, then cutting again. With each animal, she slit the belly first, removed liver, heart and kidneys, then the skirt of fat that covered the intestines. The stomach, roasted whole, full of the sedges and grasses eaten by the caribou, was a feast in itself, and the intestines, cleaned and scraped, made good carrying tubes for drinking water or to store a mix of fat, meat and dried berries.”
Harrison is an internationally-regarded author for her fiction about early people and this book shows why. She has an incomparable ability to write as though she experiences a world none of us has ever seen, wrapping it in the atmospheric details that put the reader right there, shivering:
“The lodge poles were crowded with the skins of sacred animals—white least weasels, flickers, marmot and beaver, and many wolverines.”
“For what is storytelling if not ideas brought full and whole to the inner eyes of those who listen?”
“But what village—even the strongest—did not live from winter to winter, praying?”
By the time I was partway through the first book (Song of the River), I couldn’t help but feel that I knew these people, their customs and desires, their shattered dreams. The plot though interesting was almost secondary–inconsequential–when weighed against the opportunity to explore these people’s lives. Harrison’s ability to fold detail and drama together in the uniqueness of a world we’ll never be able to see is stunning.
This is highly recommended for those who like the works of Kathleen O’Neill Gear, Jean Auel, and those who love prehistoric fiction.
by Harper Swan
In Harper Swan’s The Braided Stream (2019), Book 4 of the Replacement Chronicles, itself an epic story of early man, a Neanderthal tribe lives close to another tribe, this one an archaic form of Homo sapiens, on a frigid geographic area called the Great High Plains. The sturdy Neanderthals, mostly of one family, are dying out despite their impressive physical strength and are desperate for children to keep their tribe alive. Elder Woman of the Neanderthal group kidnaps two of the other tribe she calls simply Them, a male named Leaf and a young girl named Wren herself born of a mating between the two groups. Elder Woman’s plan is to have both mate with the few remaining members of her Neanderthal family and bear children to ensure their continuance. When Raven, Wren’s mother and Leaf’s mate, is seriously injured trying to rescue her family, she herself is rescued by a male from her distant past, one she had thought to be dead. Together, they must come up with a way both groups can survive together despite their differences and historic animosities.
Swan does a masterful job of portraying a primitive culture filled with powerful people whose goals and dreams aren’t too different than our own. I found myself trying to see their distinct worlds through as they might, wondering how I would prevent extinction when so much is against them. The story’s twists and turns kept me guessing right up until its satisfying and spectacular ending.
This is fourth in a series and explores why Neanderthals may have disappeared from prehistory. It easily stands alone so you’ll enjoy it even if you haven’t read the earlier books.
I’m excited to announce the release of my latest prehistoric fiction, The Quest for Home. Click through and check it out!
More prehistoric fiction
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, In the Footsteps of Giants, Winter 2021.