The Broken Land

Written by Kathleen O'Neal Gear W. Michael Gear
Review by Ann Chamberlin

In this third of four books set in 1400 CE among “The People of the Longhouse” (who most of us know as the Iroquois), famine, war, and witchcraft are tearing apart what ought to be one people. A creepy old sorcerer who wears skulls on his cloak and binds his hair with rattlesnake skins struggles against a band of true-hearted companions. Prime among the heroes is Sky Messenger, troubled by visions of the end of the world unless he puts a stop to the chaos.

The Gears provide their usual brilliant creation of the physical world in which these people live. Every detail of how a fire is started in winter woodlands is lovingly described, and the world is peopled with the lively spirit of kinship the Iroquois recognized in fields and streams. I was disappointed, though, in how the Gears present the matriarchal aspects of the Iroquois nation.

This was the most difficult to follow of the Gears’ books I’ve read. The Broken Land was the first I’d read of this series set in Longhouse times, and while the Gears meant for the book to stand alone, I’m sure previous acquaintance – and probably a reread of previous volumes – would have helped me. Not only do characters get adopted and so earn new names, they then acquire other names through office holding. All of the clans portrayed share material culture, so we can’t use that to tell good guys from bad. On top of that, we have, within a line of each other, Flint People and Cloud People, the one a real tribe, the other metaphorical for what’s going on in the sky. Very difficult read.