CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 10. . . .November 9, 2012
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.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired secondary school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.