In this third book in the People of the Wind series, the Neanderthal tribe the Hamapa have escaped the growing ice in their former homelands to the north and found refuge in a place where the sun is hot—prehistoric New Mexico, where mammoths and giant capybaras roam. Despite the strange wildlife and the denser vegetation, the buttes and mountains and caves felt familiar to this modern New Mexican.
The word use and thought processes of the characters fascinated me. Blending deep research with creative breaks from the historical record, Kaye George has created a complete culture, with language, rituals, and social customs. The Hamapa seldom speak, but use a form of communication that while fictional feels plausible. They and other Neanderthal tribes are telepathic, sharing ideas and images directly. To them, the “Tall Ones” the closest beings to modern humans in this book, seem noisy with their constant talking.
The Hamapa have no preconceived archetype of a detective or an investigation. A murder and the disappearance of a child distress them, but they’re dealing with hostile tribes, their own migration and resettlement, and the need to hunt. The protagonist, Enga Dancing Flower, is determined to find the child and to learn who killed a tribal elder, but she’s not at leisure to do what the lead character in a modern setting would do. I found this deviation from the expected genre conventions briefly disorienting, then refreshing. It’s true to the People. The mystery is solved in their way.
The novel is as much an adventure as a mystery, a saga of the Hamapa filled with the drama of hunts, battles, explorations, love stories, and discoveries. The writing style gives the reader the sense of being inside the mind of a very different type of human, yet a recognizable one nonetheless. I was wrapped up in the story, moment by moment, seeing through Neanderthal eyes.
Though one can read this book as a standalone, I highly recommend the first two books in the series, which introduce the tribe in their original homeland and then follow them on their journey south. Many of us have a little Neanderthal DNA. Enjoy some time with your ancestors.
An interview with the author will follow in my next post.