Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Song of the River by Sue Harrison

Title: Song of the River
Author: Sue Harrison

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 6th millennium BC / Alaska / Native Americans / Prehistoric / Tribal Life / Revenge / Intrigue)
Publisher/Publication Date: Open Road Media (5/28/2013)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Liked a good deal.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: The saga of a young storyteller in 6th millennium BC on a journey to make peace between two tribes and
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I adore it. Uh-dore. I love the color, the layout, the fact that the model doesn't appear to be a white woman...!

First line: The pain had been terrible, but that was not what K'os remembered.

Do... I love this interview with the author by blogger Erin of Oh, for the HOOK of a BOOK!?: YES. I'm always a fan of book geeks losing it over their favorite authors and I really enjoyed the conversation -- especially the tidbit that Harrison almost gave up on her first manuscript when Jean Auel's book came out.

Did... I enjoy this video profile on the author?: YES. Her home and landscape are gorgeous, but hello, that typewriter?! Filled with want.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- it's about $6, is over 500 pages, and is full of Shakespearean tragedy and drama, evocative landscapes,

Why did I get this book?: I love Open Road Media's re-releases and was curious about Harrison's novels.

Review: I have never really gotten into cave people historical fiction. Despite my love for the HF genre, and despite my majoring in Anthropology as an undergrad, I just have never been that drawn to prehistoric heroines. I suppose I've always suspected it would feel false: I'm impatient enough with Regency heroines being modern, so I'd inevitably hate my cave heroine, right?

Yeah, no. (And mostly because this book has a cave hero, not heroine, but even then, there was nothing for me to hate in this book!)

Set in 6th millennium BC in the southeastern part of Alaska, Harrison's novel opens brutally: K'os, a young girl, is assaulted by men of her tribe, and revenge and malice bury themselves in her. Days later, K'os finds an abandoned baby, perfect save for one malformed foot, and raises him. Chakliux, now grown up, is a gifted storyteller, rumored to be an animal-gift from the gods, part otter. His arranged marriage to a beautiful girl from another tribe is meant to cement peace between the two peoples, but in Shakespearean fashion, things shake out quite differently. By page 50, there have been murders, a family secret revealed, and inter-tribal treachery.

While Chakliux is one of the central characters to the story, there's actually a half dozen other players shaping the narrative, members of two tribes struggling to survive in the harsh Alaskan world, the balance of peace or war teetering. Against that great pressure is the more mundane challenges these tribes face: the fight for resources, tribal cohesion, desire for things versus real need (this mostly shakes out in terms of romantic/sexual partnerships -- everyone is yearning for someone else!).

In many ways, I reminded of Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd, which featured the many perilous ways sheep could die (among other plot dramas), and Harrison doesn't stint on the harsh details -- there's no romantic view of indigenous people here. The feel of the story is very family saga-ish, and I think those who enjoy that kind of sweeping narrative will like this one. There's a rather bittersweet end to the novel, more bitter than sweet, and I'm dying for the second book.

Despite the length (over 480 pages!), I found the narrative raced; even with the large-ish cast, I was able to keep everyone straight with a few quick notes (remembering who was married to whom, that kind of thing). This e-book has great extras: an Author's Notes which includes some information about her language choices and use of Native American words in the story; a 4-page glossary of Native American words; a map; and a 4-page Pharmacognosia, an annotated list of the plants mentioned in the novel.

Another great re-release by Open Road Media, and I'm looking forward to digging into the rest of Harrison's novels. Those who like Jean Auel's series might want to start this one as well as anyone who likes unusual historical fiction -- this is a place and era you don't often see!

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to be able to offer e-book copies of both Song of the River and Mother Earth Father Sky to one lucky reader!

To enter, fill out this brief form.  Open to US and international readers, ends 9/6.


  1. I have liked what I read by her :)

    Well not white, still too white

    1. I'm super impressed -- can't wait to dig into the rest of her books!

      It would have been great to have an Alaskan Islander as the cover model, but that she's not gratuitously Caucasian makes me v happy!

  2. I'm glad you liked this one but I have a feeling it's not for me.

  3. I've been thinking that these don't sound like my sort of book because of the pre-historic setting and because I'm not big on family sagas. Yours is the second good review I've read though and your description of the drama as Shakespearean intrigues me. I love Shakespeare :) So I don't know that I'll pick these up just yet, but I'm definitely keeping an eye out for a few more reviews to help me make up my mind.

    1. There might be an excerpt online somewhere, to give you a sense of the style. I never thought the pre-historic setting would work for me, but in this case, it was really well done. It felt believably historic AND I found the characters easy to relate to (or at least, understand their motivation).

  4. Thanks for including my interview, Audra. :) It was a pleasure to be able to interview an author who helped inspire my own writing bug.

    1. I bet! I just love doing author interviews -- it's such a treat!

  5. Thank you, Audra! I've been on the road with a book tour for Wayne State University Press (different book, The Way North, an anthology), so have just caught up to this review. I'm smiling... (There's probably some unwritten rule - or worse, written - about author's not commenting on reviews of their books, but I couldn't resist.) Love this website. Will be anxious to read books that you recommend.

    1. Ms. Harrison -- I'm very pleased you broke the unwritten rule :) Thank you for the kind comment! You made my weekend!

  6. I really enjoy your reviews. Here is another book and author that I would not be aware of. This sounds really intersting. Thanks for the review.