Subject: Reindeer Moon by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
Keywords: Reindeer Moon, prehistory, Siberia,
From: ag4@vax1.UUCP (Anne Louise Gockel)
Date: 1 Oct 87 00:13:19 GMT

Reindeer Moon

by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

available as a SFBC selection
(paperback edition ??? I don't know)

Reindeer Moon is the story of Yanan who lives in pre-historic Siberia with her family. Her family hunts and gathers but does not know how to dry meats and does not try to save grains or vegetables through the winter. In the first chapter the thirteen year old Yanan discovers that she is already married. Marriages are carefully arranged among family members and involve elaborate gift giving all around. Her husband is a member of the family that shares their lodge and he is patiently waiting for her to mature. Learning that she is married is a turning point for Yanan; from this point on she has to start thinking of herself as on the way to adulthood.

Reindeer Moon alternates between the last 2 years of Yanan's life and the first year or so of her life as a spirit. Yanan's clan leaves for their winter hunting grounds and eventually splits up. Yanan travels with her parents, her younger sister Meri, her father's second wife and two cousins. When her parents die, Yanan and Meri are soon abondoned with winter fast approaching. Somehow they make it through and even manage to find the rest of their group in the spring.

As a spirit Yanan has been captured by the shaman of the clan and is required to work for their good. She is able to take the shape of any animal she desires. As a wolf she runs far and wide, ostensibly to chase game towards the waiting and starving hunters. But with a wolf's brain she can't always remember that that is her task. As a raven she flies with the group on their travels and as a mamomoth she investigates the other mammouth herds.

Thomas skillfully ties the two stories together, alternating chapter by chapter. Winter is hard, starvation and hungry animals are a constant threat. Summer is easier, but very short. With luck the group manages to kill one mammouth by creating a rock avalanche that throws it down a cliff. Of course much of the meat spoils before they can finish it, but there is plenty of food for a while. Most of the waking hours are spent chasing food or preparing clothing or tools.

The short biography of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas says that she has spent time studying hunting and gathering cultures around the world. I felt that her details of the life and work were reasonably accurrate (however I am not the sort of person to pull apart a work for technical details). Yanan's clan has developed a fairly sophisticated culture, maybe more sophisticated than their lack of tools would indicate. The politics seem more appropriate here at work than in ancient Siberia. However this makes the story more interesting and enjoyable since the characters are people you can identify with.

I read Reindeer Moon because a good friend with good taste handed me her copy and said "Here, it's what Clan of the Cave Bear was supposed to be." She was quite right. Clan of the Cave Bear/Valley of the Horses are ok books; VotH overdoes the 'hey, sex is a neat thing' message, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, Wendy was right! Reindeer Moon is everything that CotCB/VotH tries to be (except very long) but Reindeer Moon is far superior! I couldn't put it down. It's fast moving. The scenes when Yanan is a spirit taking the body of an animal are marvelous! I highly recommend the book.

-Anne Louise Gockel

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