People of the Owl

Written by Kathleen O'Neal Gear W. Michael Gear
Review by Nina de Angeli

Set at what is now the Poverty Point, Louisiana, archaeological site, People of the Owl is the eleventh installment in the Gears’ monumental First North Americans series. Spirit helpers like Masked Owl, young clan leader Salamander, his wife, the Owl Clan family, and various enemies bring to life a long-vanished mound-builder society, recreating what the authors call the first true city in North America, a mound city where several thousand people lived between 3750 and 3350 years ago.

The six matrilineal clans of Sun Town all jockey for power and influence with complex plots and counter-plots worthy of Machiavelli. Their economy is based on a network along the Mississippi and its tributaries and on local hunting and fishing in the fertile lower Mississippi Valley. The story focuses on the Owl Clan, suddenly kicked out of power by the tragic deaths of two leaders. The adolescent Salamander, once scorned as a weakling, is thrust into the leadership role of male speaker for his clan in the tribal council, acquiring three unwilling wives in the process.

The Gears have focused this novel around Salamander’s coming of age, his marriages, and his disturbing spiritual journey into mysticism. With great skill, the authors weave tribal beliefs and mystical visions into a very human tale in a seemingly alien time. They spin a compelling yarn, vividly detailing daily life and handiwork in the thatch-topped houses that sit atop the concentric earthwork circles of Sun Town. The work is fictional but is based on interpretations of available archaeological and ethnographic evidence, as well as on the oral traditions and mythology of the Eastern Woodland tribal cultures. Highly recommended.