Monday, July 13, 2009

Daughter of Kura

On Saturday, I finished up Daughter of Kura by Debra Austin. This is the third book now that I've reviewed as part of Amazon's "Vine" program where I get to pick from a list and they send me the book in return for a review. This one was cover blurbed as "in the tradition of The Clan of the Cave Bear", a book I read years ago (as well as all of the subsequent books in the series that are published so far). I have an interest in historical fiction and was intrigued with the potential of this book after I read of the expertise that the author has in physics and paleontology.

This novel depicts a tribe of ancient man (Homo Erectus) in Africa, in a village called Kura. It is a matriarchal society where the protagonist, a daughter in line to become leader someday, must chose a mate. The author's knowledge of ancient man/societies really seems to come into play here as we see the culture that she describes. Mates are chosen annually and may not necessarily be consistently chosen from year to year. The characters do not use a spoken language but rather sign their thoughts to each other. As the novel progresses, the plot picks up and we get to experience the inevitable conflicts of interactions from other tribes/groups and their potentially conflicting approaches to the best way to do things.

The novel is not just about survival though. It looks at some less concrete concepts as well, including conflicting outlooks based on how one is raised, and also man's first thoughts of the concept of religion. Even in those days, the author suggests, differing viewpoints on religion could be the source of banishment, strife, and even war-like behavior.

Unfortunately, this is no Clan of the Cave Bear. I found the beginning of the book to be a bit slow to get started. The setting was fine, the writing style was fine, and the plot seemed to be shaping up fine. But the charcterization was lacking and that, for me, is a hard problem to get past. I read in the author's afterward that Ms Austin choose to describe very little of the physical nature of her characters for fear that future scientists might discover something that contradicts what she wrote. What? Perhaps Ms Austin has never read any science fiction but there is a whole genre of successful storytelling that may well one day be disproven. That doesn't make the story itself bad in any way.

Another example: the author chose to have her characters sign to each other rather than speak since we may someday discover that their voice boxes were not fully developed yet. And yet we readers still "see" what they sign because the words are in quotation marks. Their "speech" is not simple and even includes complex concepts. Their sign language would have to be as robust as today's signing but how do we know they had the mental acuity to sign such concept thoughts? I'm being a bit facetious here but it seems difficult to reconcile when that particular excuse is used.

The character's names are sounds that they could make while signing, such as "Snap", "Whistle," "Hum", etc. Talk about a way to severely hamper your story-telling ability! There are quite a few characters in this book and it was impossible to keep them all straight. They are not described in any way other than their name and gender and I often forgot which gender they were; i.e. what gender would you say "Rattle" is? We never find out how they dressed, how tall they are, or what they look like. All of this led to me really not caring what happened to them and thus a promising story became merely mediocre.

I also completed the next short story in Stephen King's Skeleton Crew collection: "Beachworld." This one takes place in the far future where a Federation spacecraft has crashed on to a planet that is made up entirely of living sand. It's basically a quick study in going crazy due to knowledge of your own impending death. Interesting but probably won't be among my favorites from this collection.

Next up: a Star Wars entry, the first in the "Black Fleet Crisis" trilogy.

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Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire