CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 36. . . .May 26, 2017
Algonquin Spring. (An Algonquin Quest Novel, Book 2).
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2015.
294 pp., trade pbk., epub & pdf, $12.99 (pbk.), $8.99 (epub), $12.99 (pdf).
ISBN 978-1-4597-3063-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4597-3065-6 (epub), ISBN 978-1-4597-3064-9 (pdf).
Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.
Review by Adam C. Hunt.
The guard turned his head, smiled, and stood up. He entered the forest, stringing his bow, hoping for a shot at one of the two preoccupied bucks that he thought he was hearing. As soon as he entered the shadows of the forest, one of my men drove his spear into the nape of his neck, paralyzing him, and as the man dropped to his knees the warrior slit his throat, scalped him, and cut off his head….Tossing the head of the slain Wabanaki down the hill into the campsite of the enemy, we emitted a blood-curdling war cry and charged into the encampment. The inhabitants looked up in stunned silence; we were upon them before they realized the danger that was about to beset the camp. I watched as one young warrior grabbed his wife and ran toward the trail above. He reached the top, where he received a smash to the face from a war club. Bone and blood flew into the air, and he tumbled backward down the hill, flipping and landing face first in the stream, bloodying the water around him….I was the first to reach the camp and was met by a warrior with half of his head shaved. He had a stone axe in his hand and tried to swing it at me as he rose. With my war club in one hand and my knife in the other I swung as hard as I could, catching the man on his chin. I could hear his jaw break as he let out a scream of pain. The blow staggered him and he fell to the ground, but rising quickly, he staggered toward me, spitting blood on the ground. His eyes glazed over as I drove the knife into his heart. He died in that instant, covering me with his blood. Cutting his heart out to eat, I now gained his strength.
Readers may remember that the first part of this trilogy – I Am Alqonquin – was reviewed favourably in CM by Ruth Latta. She praised the encyclopedic nature of the novel, as well as the way the author used cliffhangers. I agree with this assessment. However, where I differ with her is that, although I believe that young male action/adventure fans may initially be attracted to the novel, I doubt that many will stay with it. Indeed, that may be the paradox of the book: it is so detailed, so rich with nuances about First Nation life in the 1300s that young adults may give up on the book. As a middle-aged librarian, I loved the book, but surely I am not the intended audience. The first volume of the trilogy has been in the high school library where I work for over three years and has only been signed out twice. Where are its readers?
Unlike I Am Alqonquin, Algonquin Spring moves away from having a single narrator – Mahingan (an Algonquin warrior ) – to having a multitude of them, all from different “tribes”. The reader is given such a wealth of perspectives that the book may prove too challenging for some YA readers. Perhaps I am not giving enough credit to the students at my school...
As mentioned, the main reason students may find this novel difficult is that there are at least five narrators: Tall Man (Beothuk); Mahingan (Algonquin); Kanikwe, or “No Hair” (also Algonquin); Corn Dog (Mohawk), and Wabanang, wife of Mahingan (Algonquin). The various tribes are also referred to by their Native names: Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), Omamiwinini (Algonquin), and the like. Despite turning many times to the excellent glossaries and pronunciation guides that are at the end of the novel, I was confused. For example, I would ask myself, “Is Mohawk the same as Iroquois?” Later, after stumbling around the novel and looking at a few source books, I learned that the Mohawk was one of the five original members of the Iroquois nation. It is a little frustrating to read a novel that sends you to the reference section at every turn, but perhaps that is merely a given regarding rich, detailed historical fiction.
In a post-Orenda, post-Tarrentino world, this extremely violent novel should surely find an audience. Although the second part of a trilogy, it still can function as a “stand alone.” (I must confess: I have not read I Am Algonquin, the first Algonquin Quest novel.) I did find myself wishing for more details about Mahingan and other characters, details that would have been in the first novel, but this was not a “deal breaker”. Furthermore, if one of the chief criteria of the second part of a trilogy is that you want to read the third part, then this novel also is a success. When the book is about to close, Mahingan is narrating the chapter, “The Clash of Nations”, and he is on the verge of reuniting with his wife and daughter. Corn Dog and his forces, however, have surrounded him and are about to attack... Surely this is an ending worthy of the old nineteenth century serial tradition.
Why, then, do I give Algonquin Spring four stars, even though I have reservations about it as a book for a high school library? The answer is simple: like Joseph Boyden, Rick Ravelle does not paint a picture of a stereotypical “noble savage,” like some idealized version of First Nation life. His depiction of life – bloody, base and brutal – rings true in the same way as Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Golding’s Lord of the Flies. From the twenty first century, we may disagree with its world view; however, as a depiction of how life was in the fourteenth century in Canada, it surely could not be more chillingly accurate.
Adam Hunt, a teacher of English for almost twenty years, is now Department Head of Library and Social Sciences at Centennial Secondary School in Belleville, ON.
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