Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson

Shaman A review by Evie Kendal

Shaman begins with Loon’s “wander” – a tribal tradition in which he must survive in the wild without any of his usual aids (including clothing!). Forced to prove his transition from boy to man in unusually bad weather, Loon resents his shaman, Thorn, but decides to make the most of the situation. At this point the first-person narration of “the third wind” enters the narrative, providing “a lift from within” for the weary traveller.

While he struggles to survive (and avoid frostbite of certain — appendages) Loon has visions and discovers what it means to live his own life. He returns, now a man, to find Thorn still treats him as an apprentice and appears to be planning to appoint him the next shaman even though Loon is clearly not interested. He considers his “mating” options, settling on Elga from a local tribe who plays a great supportive role for him. Unfortunately Elga is taken sometime later and when Loon tries to rescue her he ends up being captured and used as a slave. At this point Thorn needs to intervene and the drama increases.

Shaman is set in Paleolithic times and contains a great deal of description of the harsh beauty of nature. An historical fiction, it is quite different to Robinson’s science fiction works, but the prose is similar and various themes carry over, such as humanity’s thirst for adventure and exploration. The naming of the characters after animals, plants, or parts thereof, reminded me of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the Long Sun science fiction series.

Shaman is recommended for anyone who enjoys coming-of-age stories and has an appreciation for the sublime. As the main character is an adolescent male, his mind is a bit one-tracked, particularly at the beginning of the novel where he considers copulating with the ground to stay warm — and then with the image of a beautiful girl he remembers — and then with himself. As such, it may not be suitable for very young readers (quite apart from its intimidating length). Although the text is quite dense in parts the writing is engaging and the characters are well rounded and able to sustain the reader’s attention.

For those readers who are unfamiliar with Robinson’s work I recommend starting with the collection of short stories The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson as a good showcase of his different styles.

ISBN: 9780356500454
Publisher: Orbit (Hachette)
Page count: 464