________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 29 . . . . April 3, 2015


Grey Eyes.

Frank Christopher Busch.
Winnipeg, MB: Roseway/Fernwood Publishing, 2014.
320 pp., trade pbk. & ebook, $20.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-55266-677-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55266-697-5 (ebook).

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Joan Marshall.

**½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


The participants shook hands and went about repacking the sacred objects. They passed a water skin around and let the fire burn down. They covered the smoldering embers with sand. As they walked back to the village, Painted Turtle Man reminded his followers of the work to be done this day. He had just begun explaining the ingredients that would be needed to make a tea to break a fever when a Crane clan warrior came running up the path.

Moosum!” said the young man to Painted Turtle Man. “You must hurry! Soaring Star Woman is leaving this world and she is calling for him.” The man did not look at Little Grey Bear Boy, who was the only one who did not understand that it was him she was calling for.

Painted Turtle Man grabbed Little Grey Bear Boy by the arm and started to run, leaving the younger men behind. “We must be as swift as the deer,” he said.

“But I don’t?” The sound of running hooves cut the boy’s words short as, one after another, large blue deer jumped over his head.

Painted Turtle Man leaped into the air, a great blue stag with large antlers.

“You did it my boy, climb onto my back!” the stag commanded. Little Grey Bear Boy, confused as to what part he played in the transformation, did as instructed and the herd galloped all the way back to Nisichawayasihk, heading straight for the Eagle lodge. They slowed on approach, returning to human form as they arrived. Painted Turtle Man let Little Grey Bear Boy down off his back and escorted him in. Atop the lodge, a large black crow cawed loudly.



In this richly drawn historical fiction, the battle between good and evil takes place in a Cree village of northern Canada during pre European contact times when the matrilineal society is led by the women. A grey eyed boy is born into the Bear clan (or family), fulfilling a prophecy and ensuring that the village will continue to be protected by grey eyed magic. An elder versed in the skills of medicine, Painted Turtle Man, takes on the responsibility of teaching the child, Little Grey Bear Boy, and they grow very close. On the occasion of the boy’s sundance ceremony, a visiting man from the south east, Red Sky Man, offers to help with the boy’s training and is welcomed into the village by the conniving twin sisters of the Eagle clan. Although Little Grey Bear Boy tries to accept this training, he eventually sees it as the evil it is. On his vision quest, Little Grey Bear Boy overhears Red Sky Man and the village’s Red Eye enemies planning an attack on the village as they have sent the men away to hunt buffalo. Gathering up his people, Little Grey Bear Boy uses his magic to destroy the Red Eye attackers but is forced to move his people to a new location where the Eagle sisters admit their guilt and inappropriate behaviour, restoring the balance of the Circle of Clan Mothers, and the village buries the honourable Painted Turtle Man.

     Little Grey Bear Boy is a strong main character. He is cheerful, obedient and curious, determined to learn all he can from Painted Turtle Man because he loves him so much. He and his best friend, Flying Rabbit Boy, build a wonderful friendship, teasing and supporting each other through all the steps of childhood and beginning manhood. Little Grey Bear Boy’s discernment and courage are put to the test as he is faced with the evil Red Sky Man.

     Painted Turtle Man represents the wise old person in this story. Although not a political leader as he is not a woman, Painted Turtle Man draws upon all his plant knowledge and magic learned from his deceased wife while he fulfills this last great task, to find the true path for Little Grey Bear Boy. He is perceptive, smart, loyal and determined, the man who sees the truth and leads his protégé towards it.

     There are several minor characters, all of whom have distinctive personalities, some quite amusing, all interesting, and through whom the story advances well. The stoic Brown Shield Man hides his pain at having to be the executioner of a Red Eye spy. Walking Moon Woman, the clan matriarch, makes decisive, often amusing decisions as she works to keep the Circle of the Clan Mothers in harmony. The bickering and oneupmanship, support and friendships of a small village are represented by the interesting individual characters. Even the Trader, an aboriginal man who has dedicated his life to traveling between villages to trade objects, comes alive as he engenders excitement and demonstrates respect for all.

     Some Cree words are incorporated into the dialogue but are repeated and easily understood in context. Dialogue often moves plot and characterization along well. However, the author also uses it to impart information about the Cree people and their stories, as characters persist in telling background information that would be better imparted through action. In many places, the ceremonies of the Cree people, such as the sundance ceremony or the procedures of the sweat lodge ceremony, are told in loving detail but become quite tedious. The decision-making of the Clan Mothers is also very long and elaborate to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard and considered. Although it is clearly the author’s intention that readers learn about the culture of the Cree people, these long passages slow the movement of the novel to a crawl and will deter the intended readership.

     The northern Canadian wilderness setting is the living, breathing background to this story, demonstrating how the aboriginal people adapted their lifestyle to the demands of the land. The isolation of these tiny villages numbering perhaps a hundred people who nevertheless developed similar political structures and ways of life is remarkable. Their discipline and acceptance of the Creator’s leadership ensured their survival. The author’s stated intention for this novel comes through loud and clear: to revive an understanding of the past for today’s aboriginal people.

     Readers of all cultures will be intrigued by the Cree beliefs and practices. This novel would be useful in any study of Canada’s aboriginal people at the high school level.


Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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