________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 10. . . .November 9, 2012


Shadows Cast by Stars.

Catherine Knutsson.
New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Distributed in Canada by Simon & Schuster Canada), 2012.
456 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
ISBN 978-1-4424-0191-4.

Subject Headings:
Science fiction.
Indians of North America-Fiction.
Family life-Fiction.
Brothers and sisters-Fiction.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4



Henry Crawford draws a deep breath and crosses to me until we stand nose to nose. “We are being watched,” he says. “I’m sorry, but they want her to stay here.” He casts his gaze to the trees. “They’ve claimed her.”

“Who is they?” I say.

“You’re the medicine woman, aren’t you?” He narrows his eyes at me. “Shouldn’t you know?”

The hair on the back of my neck lifts as I scan the tree line. I have no idea what, or who, is watching us, but I realize he’s right. I can feel the eyes again, boring into my soul.

“You tell me,” I demand. “You tell me right now who did this.” Cedar exchanges worried glances with the other men. They know, and they just don’t want to say.

We climb the cliff, and when we reach the top, just as I’m about to demand answers, something behind us screams. I’ve never heard such an unearthly sound. I jump and try to bolt forward, but Henry holds me back.

“Walk slowly,” he says. “If they wanted you, they would have taken you already. They won’t hurt you now.” But his hand trembles.

“What...what is that?” I whisper.

“Dzoonokwa,” Henry says. “A supernatural, from the old stories. The wild woman of the woods.”

“Women,” the other man says. “There’s more than one.”

“What are they?” I ask.

“Later.” Henry Crawford nods at Cedar, who sets off again. “We need to get back before dark. But now you have your answer.”

The screams follow us into the woods, though they grow fainter with time. Only then, when I can’t hear them anymore, do I realize tears are streaming down my face again.

We arrive back at the camp at nightfall. I find the place where Madda and I abandoned our packs, and it hits me that the packs and all they hold are now mine. I sink down beside them, rest my forehead on the stiff, rough canvas. I don’t cry. I feel like I should, like I need to, but I have no more tears. My eyes feel dry and raw and cracked. So, too, does my heart.

No one approaches me, though I feel many gazes resting on my back. What the men think, I don’t know. I don’t care. Staying away from me is the best thing they can do. I want blood.

Cedar dares to approach a short time later. He holds a bowl of stew out to me. “You should eat,” he says.

“I’m not hungry.”

“Suit yourself.” He sets the bowl beside the packs and turns to leave, when I stop him.

“Tell me about the dzoonokwa.”

He pauses midstep. “They’re the wild women of the woods.”

I groan. “Henry already told me that. I’m not in the mood to play games.” Cedar whirls around and glares at me. “Dzoonokwa claimed Madda’s soul, and now we’re stuck with some stupid, half-trained half-breed who doesn’t know a damn thing about the spirit world or the creatures of the forest.” He storms off.

I throw the bowl of stew at his back, but I miss and the bowl bounces off into the bracken. I can smell the stew, and only then do I realize how hungry I actually am.


Cassandra Mercredi is a 16-year-old Metis who is living about two hundred years in the future. She, her brother and their father are forced to leave their home and head for sanctuary on the Island in order to hide from the UA (government) forces. Any aboriginal is valuable because they have special antibodies in their blood which non-aboriginals do not. At the time of the story, the plague is rampant among non-aboriginals, and so any native blood is a very valuable commodity, and government agents do not hesitate to kill in order to obtain it.

      The Island may be free from the plague, but life there is not entirely serene. Island society is under the control of the Band, a group of guerilla warriors who mirror the racism, hatred and greed which are abundant in the non-aboriginal world. Cass is able to see the shades, or sprits, of those around her and so has a special connection with the shadowy and mystic spirit world. She is chosen by Madda, the healer and medicine woman on the Island, to be her apprentice. It seems Cass has also been chosen by the spirits as their conduit to earth. Cass is to be the human voice for their anger and discontent.

      In her first novel, Canadian author Knutsson weaves together elements of science fiction, fantasy, aboriginal culture, Greek mythology, adventure and romance in order to create a unique young adult novel. The description is detailed and gives readers a strong sense of place among the forests and near the sea. Knutsson lives on Vancouver Island and bases her novel on this setting. Like her protagonist, Knutsson is also a member of the Metis nation. The science fiction of Shadows Cast by Stars is not dependent on technology; it presents an interesting combination of a world which is futuristic and dystopian while, at the same time, it takes readers to a place where aboriginal culture and beliefs and the ‘old ways’ are inherent in society. Aboriginal mythology is a strong theme in the book, and readers are introduced to such aboriginal archetypes as Raven, Sisiutl and Thunderbird.

     The novel is narrated in the first person by Cass, a character who is both interesting and complex. Her name, of course, will remind readers of the Greek Cassandra who was able to foretell the future but was cursed because no one believed her prophecies. Cassandra Mercredi finds herself in a similar situation. Knutsson has chosen to present a strong female character who stands up for what she believes in and shows both physical and moral courage throughout the novel. She is multi-faceted in that she also can be frightened when she realizes that her understanding of the spirit world only scratches the surface of the mysticism and magic in the other realm. Although strong, Cass also shows readers a vulnerable side when she is less sure of herself. She realizes how much Madda can teach her about traditional medicines and herbs, and she is willing to take the time to listen to and learn from her mentor.

     Secondary characters add greatly to the overall plot. Cass has strong ties to her father and to her twin brother, Paul, and there is both love and friction between the siblings which seems natural and believable. Bran, the son of the tribal leader, provides the romantic interest in the novel. The character of Cedar is complex, and readers, like Cass, find they depend on him one minute and mistrust his motives the next. Madda, the medicine woman, is wise yet demanding but sadly does not have enough time to pass on her knowledge to Cass. There are many others in the large cast of characters who influence Cass for either good or ill and who all play their role in her coming-of-age experience in the book.

     The novel has plenty of action and adventure both in the spirit world and the real world, and yet the pace at times seems deliberately slow. The writing is dense, and I found myself reading some paragraphs a second time either to ensure I understood their place in the plot or simply because they conjured up such wonderful images for me. Knutsson brings the elements of the book to a satisfying conclusion, and yet one feels that there is more in store for Cassandra, her family, and the other characters on the Island. Perhaps we will see them in a sequel as Cass learns more about her abilities to heal and to form a connection with the world of spirits.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired secondary school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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