A review by Nalini Haynes
In the opening scene of The Gathering, Serena drowns despite the best efforts of Maya, her best friend, and Daniel, Serena’s boyfriend, to save her. Maya and Daniel are haunted by Serena’s death as anyone would be by the death of a close friend in similar circumstances, not by Serena’s ghost. Maya is a much loved adopted child of the park ranger and an artist living in Salmon Creek, a small community on Vancouver Island in Canada. Maya is Navajo by her looks, although, as a foundling, no-one is certain as to her heritage. Daniel is the son of a drunk, from whom his mother ran away. Rafe is the new kid, living in a cabin outside of town with his 19 year old sister Annie.
Salmon Creek is a medical research centre with residents hand picked by St Clouds, the research company. Nearly all residents are long term, even those in support roles outside of the research facility. This story differs from the usual formula in that the central character, Maya, is on the inside of the small community and is the popular girl at school. Even so, events unfold that lead to Maya asking questions about her heritage and looking for answers as to why Serena, a champion swimmer, died.
The Gathering has the traditional love triangle that differs from the norm in that Maya is not self-destructive in her impulses, not waiting to be rescued and is genuinely derisive of the girls who are attracted to the ‘bad guy’ image. Maya is a capable teen, competent in bush lore and in the care of animals. She is physically active and independent although not anti-social.
Early on in The Gathering I thought the idealistic description of the small town from Maya’s point of view was unbelievable and shallow, but later character development showed Maya as idealistic, revealing the usual pecking order inevitable in any school and community.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t like Twilight, I don’t like sparkly vampires and I don’t like Bella’s unhealthy relationships. What I did like was Stephanie Meyer’s version of the American Indian heritage, which I would have loved to see explored in a different manner. Kelley Armstrong has taken a similar idea, that of the mythical skinwalkers, and developed a new story without vampires, substituting an admirable yet flawed Maya for the helpless Bella. While Armstrong is not a new George R. R. Martin, she has presented an enjoyable story suitable for teens, young adults and anyone interested in paranormal fiction/adventure with romantic overtones.
Highly recommended for fans of the genre, very good for Young Adult.
Previously published in Dark Matter issue 4, July 2011.