Reviewed February 2020 by LA as part of the Blackthorn Book Tour
Winner of the International Book Award and Pinnacle Book Award for Visionary Fiction
A collision of Worlds…
This prize winning novel is by a psychologist – I’m guessing probably Jungian – native to New Mexico. Set in the modern day in the mythical country of Aztlan – home of the Aztec people – it is a supernatural story about the battle between good and evil, crafted firmly from archetypes.
Good is firmly and repeatedly represented by old ways, old wisdom, old healing, indigenous people, brown eyes, brown skin, the simple poor, fragrance, the feminine, the intuitive. Most of nature is good: wolves are good, eagles are good, doves are good (but they only appear when dead, because they’re naturally innocent victims).
Evil is represented by black robes, modern ways, cruel modern psychiatry, black Mercedes cars, bad smells, a corrupted male-dominated church, Caucasian features, blue eyes, a corrupted police force, money. Evil also claims a little of the natural world. Some bits of wasteland are bad. Caves are generally bad. Crows (sometimes referred to as blackbirds, to the confusion of English readers who tend to feel affection for blackbirds) are definitely bad. Bad, as always, wants money, power, depravity. And (in case you missed it) the wealthy blue-eyed archbishop who is screwing a great deal of money from his congregation is really bad: quite apart from his penchant for drinking the blood of beautiful dead young women, he also enjoys killing cats!
The stereotypes have a comic-book feel, and I found them hard going. I prefer my bad guys to be a little less obvious – I don’t want to be told the minute they appear (oozing insincerity and eerie irresistible dark forces) that the heroine’s skin starts tingling with the evil of their presence. And I can’t be doing with a mystic heroine whose visions contain endless spoilers – I’d rather work the story out for myself.
So I didn’t get off to a good start with this book, though as I progressed it grew on me. The heroine, Claire is nicely poised between the old (good) order and the new (bad) one. She is mixed race, a mestiza – flagged up repeatedly by her auburn hair (a European feature clearly slugging it out with her more local brown eyes). She is correspondingly positioned at the intersection of two models of healthcare: part native healer, descended from medicine women, part modern health professional with impeccable credentials, described at one point as “the perfect employee to bridge the gap between mental health workers and natural therapists.” When we meet her she is the Director of Natural Therapy and Mental Health in a broadly modern hospital, and she clearly likes her job. Her closest friends are indigenous women, with open fires and herbal teas in humble adobe homes, but she drives a car, has a nice modern boyfriend, and likes to take a four mile run and then a shower before work, like any modern self-respecting heroine. More importantly, she appears to be outside both the old religion of her maternal ancestors and the new religion of the corrupted church: as such she is her own woman, which frees her, if nothing else, to drive the plot forward. None the less, throughout the book, she is tugged between the two worlds. The conflict troubles her and makes her a threat to others. Let me give away no spoilers, but her very existence is a conundrum for one world and a threat to the other.
Structurally, stripping down the magical and mystical components, the story is a thriller with a feisty heroine threatened by a quite demonic villain. As she struggles to evade the clutches of evil, her allies are killed and the authorities who should protect her are exposed as in league with dark forces. Many of the ordinary people around her are corrupted by evil. Others are cowed by their fear of it. She is increasingly isolated. The courage of the heroine, and her innocent determination to protect what she knows to be good, take her to the darkest of all places.
I liked the twisted revelation at the end of the book, which pulls together the themes of good and evil in a way that challenges, at last, the idea that they are merely binary. And throughout I liked the recognition of different worlds not so much colliding as spilling through each other, as worlds do. For all of us, as for our heroine, old and new realities co-exist, not only in the landscapes and cityscapes around us, but also in at the deepest levels of what we are, how we think and what choices we make.
Aggregated Amazon Rating at time of this blog (19 ratings)