Written by Kim Stanley Robinson
Review by Barry Webb

Billed as a coming-of-age story set 30,000 years ago during the height of the Ice Age, the novel follows the life of a shaman-in-training named Loon from his initiation-by-wandering-alone to adulthood, fatherhood, and his achievement of full shaman status several years later. Along the way he quarrels with his mentor, falls in love with a girl from another clan, gets captured by proto-Eskimos – and is rescued by his mentor with the help of a lonely Neanderthal.

Since it’s heavy on descriptions of day-by-day activities and light on plot, I had difficulty getting into this book in the early going. For what little dialogue there is, the author chose to not use quotation marks. This sometimes made it difficult to determine when dialogue stopped and internal monologue resumed. I also had difficulty trying to determine exactly where this story was taking place. Based on the verbal descriptions in the text, I was first thinking it was maybe just east of the Mediterranean or the Black Sea. By the end of the novel, I had figured out that it must have been somewhere in what is now France or Spain, but had there been a map at the front of the book, such as found in The Clan of the Cave Bear, it would have been extremely helpful.

However, in spite of these drawbacks, by the time I had neared the end, I had become quite attached to the characters and found the book to be rather engrossing. The anthropological lore that went into this book was first class. We need to read books like this in order to remind ourselves how rough life was before agriculture and civilization turned us all into spoiled house cats.