A novel of the indigenous Americas
My version: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction, Indigenous peoples of North America, Chinese
Publisher: Baer Publishing
First published: 2020
From the cover:
In the Spring of 1031 CE, a Song Empire trader sails from Shanghai. Zahn has a good ship and a crew as daring as he is. Following the currents North and East from trading in Korea, they travel past the point where others turn back. He discovers a new continent and the trade is beyond their wildest dreams – but the natives are astute traders as well – seeking knowledge as well as goods. A raving-mad Shaman of the Grasslands People; the accidental introduction of smallpox to the new world; fear that the Empire will find them before they are ready, drives them to find out how big this new land really is, and establish the People as allies rather than subjects.
First they must defeat the Shaman’s invaders. The war throws Hawk of the River People, and Midnight from the Grasslands together in an unlikely alliance to defeat them, aided by Zahn’s new technologies. With Hawk driving their defence, and Midnight on the offensive, the bodies begin to stack up. It’s alliance or slavery, and neither side is backing down. Either way, the Empire will find them sooner or later.
Also from the cover, about the concept for the Alliance series:
The Alliance series is an exploration of possibilities. It contrasts Alliance versus Empire: building together as opposed to conquer or die, not that the protagonists are unwilling to fight. It is also a timely story, given the recent UN Resolution on Indigenous Rights. The story contains powerful men, women, and two spirit (LGBTQ) characters in an accepting society. It is a history that could have happened.
There is, as you see above, a lot of black space around what I would call the cover ‘proper,’ so here’s (left) a view a little closer in. The book itself is large, measuring 25.5 x 18 cm. It would perhaps have been better, in terms of holding it to read, being made a little smaller, even keeping some of the ‘largeness.’
The problem I have with the black surround is first and foremost, it isn’t very inviting. It looks like a text book, especially with the black and white photo in the middle (which is a photograph by Edward S. Curtis called “Kwakiutl people in canoes in British Columbia# from 1914), whilst you can definitely learn a lot from the book, I did anyway, that surely isn’t its primary function. That would be to entertain. The funereal black doesn’t say “you’ll have great fun reading this!” The closer in white background does that a little better, I feel, but the book, for all it’s rich storyline and settings, deserves some colour.
As the description at the top says, the book is set just after the turn of the first millennium, a little later the sharp-eyed amongst you will immediately notice, than the Vikings made their first landings – also on what is now Canadian soil – on the ‘New World’ on the other side of the continent. As one of the determining factors for deciding the remains of houses and other items at L’Anse aux Meadows were Viking in origin, was the discovery of small pieces of smelted iron. The general consensus being that iron smelting was unknown to the peoples of the continent at that time, the knowledge, therefore, can only have been brought by Vikings. The other side of the continent, a few years later, we have knowledge of iron working – and much more – also brought to the Americas by outsiders. In this case, the Chinese. That the Chinese could possibly have visited the western parts of North America at this time, is a premise that you need to buy into for Alliance. I figured that while I have not come across writings about such voyages, doesn’t mean that they couldn’t have happened. David, again as above, suggests a Viking-like island-hopping route over to the Americas, rather than sailing directly from one point to another. The Vikings went from Scandinavia, to the Faeroes, Iceland, Greenland and Canada. The Chinese peoples could without doubt have done something similar.
The story isn’t about the clash of cultures, though there is a huge one obviously. As the title suggests, it shows the possibilities of alliances between seemingly different peoples. The Vikings clearly couldn’t handle the indigenous tribes of eastern Canada, the Song Dynasty Chinese say “hold my rice wine!” The clashes come between the various different tribes of the indigenous peoples themselves. The inland, Grassland, peoples want to extend the areas they control, not by forging mutually beneficial alliances based on trade and fair exchange, they see force and slavery as the way forward. By having Midnight, as the Grasslander who sees the new Shaman’s regime for the disaster waiting to unfold that it is, leaving and being taken to and then willingly absorbed into Hawk’s River People, allows us to see contrast one leadership style with the other. The people are, and they know they are, the same underneath, it’s just the leaders that are leading them astray. There’s also a contrast we could use seeing today.
The book is narrated by many of the characters. Chapters from Midnight’s perspective, from Hawk’s, from a few more minor characters and a couple from the overall narrator. This works extremely well, really highlighting much of what I’ve mentioned above. The style of writing is immediate and welcoming. I was immediately in tune with their characters and speech patterns and their love for their surroundings and fellow people. The sense of purpose for all of them is very well put over, as is the love evidenced in the description of their surroundings. It’s a book you can leap into and be transported.
The Chinese characters are also sympathetically handles, despite their more hard-headed reasons for contact with the locals. However, the River People and others who meet them do give as good as they get. If they had developed woollen garments at his time, the Chines wouldn’t have been able to pull it over the River People’s eyes. The story begins languidly, then heats up as the threat from the Grasslanders is fully realised. There are preparations and fortresses to be made, skirmishes, attacks and full-on battles to be fought. There are several of the Chinese traders who have been left with the River People while Zahn returns to China to re-stock, and on his return, it reminded me of a passage or two late on in the incredible ‘The Sea Road.’ I’ll leave you to investigate both books to get the full meaning of that.
As David writes at the top there, all that happens here could have happened. He has aired many ideas about how such contact could have been made, what the scenarios could have been after initial contact was made, and how both sides could benefit – in Alliance.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, I couldn’t keep away actually, It gave me a whole new world to experience and I came away the richer for the experience. The book is crying out to be picked up by a major publisher and given a cover that will do the richness of the story inside its full justice.
You can buy Alliance Metamorphosis from Amazon
Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash