Great Sky Woman
Rarely do we encounter a book that effortlessly draws us into its world for several hundred pages. When done well, such a tale can inhabit our dreams … and possibly our nightmares.
Steven Barnes’ Great Sky Woman is one of those books, taking readers into the far distant past and into Kilimanjaro’s shadow.
In the Ibandi tribe, everyone must have a name. But the abandoned girl called T’Cori–which means “nameless”–has been given no name by the gods. Prophecy speaks of one such individual: one destined to change all that the Ibandi know in the world.
Frog Hopping, a young Ibandi boy, grows up as a typical hunter-to-be. He’s different in his own way, though: He has more imagination, and he dares to think beyond the sometimes narrow confines of his people.
The tribe worships the mountain they call Great Sky: For as long as anyone can remember, the Ibandi have lived in its shadow. But new dangers are rising up: different humans whose savagery is indisputable. As the life that the Ibandi have known for time out of mind begins to change, the people must decide whether to stay near the mountain, or move on and face the unknown.
Although technically an alternate history novel, a lot of truth is woven into this tale. Barnes spent several months living with the natives who reside at Kilimanjaro’s base today, and his novel draws heavily from their myths and culture. He describes the ways of the land in great detail, but he doesn’t overwhelm the reader. Rather, he weaves such elements into Frog Hopping and T’Cori’s tales in such a way that we absorb them unawares.
As with Santa Olivia, the plot here is looser than usual. It’s mainly about the tribe seeing its world change, and deciding how to handle this. But readers will watch the characters grow and mature, and their journeys form the story’s best moments. The lessons learned are those we all face: lessons of courage, endurance and tolerance.
After picking up Great Sky Woman on a whim, I devoured it in just a few days. Barnes has written an engrossing, yet low-key novel that creates an irresistible panoply of the ancient world and its people.
This review appeared in the Davis Enterprise on June 18, 2009.