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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Song of the Earth by John R. Dann

Song of the Earth by John R. Dann. New York: Forge, 2005. ISBN: 0-765-31193-3

This is the prequel to Song of the Axe (2002). In this prehistoric tale, set in some time period prior to 32,000 B.C., “a strange male child was born. His forehead seemed slightly more bulging than the heads of other babies, and his eyes held a questioning, searching, look.” This was Grae, the father of the tribe. They live in "Eden," undoubtedly somewhere in Africa, where they can eat nuts, fruits, bird eggs, berries, fish, clams, and other food that was easy to find or catch.

One day a nearby volcano erupts, and explodes, killing most of the people. Only Grae, and the seven daughters of River Woman survive. River Woman and her daughters were also considered to be somewhat strange. On the daughters, Grae fathers a tribe. They learn to use tools, and learn to kill animals to survive, but every year the ground is drier, the game scarcer, and the tribe larger, with more mouths to feed.

One other survivor arrives, a woman named Kala, badly injured from an encounter with Ka, a stranger who had attacked the tribe during the earthquake that preceded the volcanic eruption. According to the author,

While the people had smooth heads of hair, the stranger had a great black mane that rose above his head like the manes of the horses that galloped on the plain.

Ka might have killed Grae then, but at the very moment he attacked, the mountain blew up. Kala's daughter, by Ka, also named Kala, becomes a divisive element, that causes the tribe to split into three groups. One travels, east, one goes west, while Grae and the remainder head north.

Several generations pass, and the tribe travels north into what is undoubtedly Europe. They meet and fight the “wide people,” obviously neanderthals, who are depicted as brutish, cannibalistic, who attempt to capture the humans, torture, rape and eat them. But the humans use their superior intelligence to defeat the wide people, generally by defending higher ground, and tumbling rocks onto them. By this time they have also invented spears, which are far superior to any weapons available to the wide men.

The story is always full of adventure, well written, and entertaining, even though it collapses into a mere three or four generations what probably took centuries in actuality. But well into the second half, the author diverges into a conflict between good and evil that hardly seems realistic or apropos for the time period that is being depicted.

A hunchbacked child was driven from the tribe (we learn later; we know nothing about it when it actually happens), and grows up to become a twisted, evil shaman, with terrible powers, determined to wreak havoc upon the tribes of Grae. The evil tribe of Ka still exists as well, as a potent enemy.

The major complaint I have about the book is this unjustified (in my view) diversion into magic and good versus evil shamanism that takes up the main portion of the latter part of the book. Still, all in all, an entertaining effort, recommended for fans of stories set in early prehistory, that try to tell how it might have been in the very beginnings of tool-making, intelligent humankind.

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