Trickster, edited by Matt Dembicki

Read: 11 April, 2017

This is a fair collection of trickster stories, each told by a different storyteller/artist team. Given the anthological nature of the book, the quality does vary quite a bit, though only one or two of the stories were what I would consider poor. For the most part, they were interesting, well told, and well illustrated.

As each story is illustrated by a different artist, each has its own style – and these can vary quite a bit, from Marvel-like to Ren and Stimpy. For the most part, I found that the art style meshed fairly well with the tone of the story.

From what I’ve read, these stories are somewhat sanitized. There’s nothing in here that your average parents wouldn’t want their kids – even fairly young kids – reading. There’s nothing approaching the crueller/raunchier trickster tales I’ve come across. I assume that this was deliberate to keep the collection fairly universal, but it may give an overly clean impression to readers who – like the editor – weren’t familiar with First Nations stories prior to encountering this volume.

I was fairly impressed by the geographical breadth of the anthology. There is even a Hawaiian story, which I don’t often see in collections of North American First Nations stories.

Overall, I found that the quality does vary quite a bit from story to story, but the collection is worth checking out.

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The Sacketts #4: Jubal Sackett by Louis L’Amour

Read: 22 January, 2017

I picked this up without realising that it’s part of a larger series. In fact, I didn’t realise it at all until I had finished the book and went to GoodReads to see what other people think of it. Point being, this works perfectly well as a stand-alone.

It follows the story of Jubal Sackett, son of Barnabas Sackett, as he travels ever farther west – intent on seeing whatever is beyond the next horizon. On the way, he receives a quest to find a princess, makes friends, makes enemies, and falls in love.

It’s a bit of a meandering tale. When Jubal receives the quest to find the Natchez princess Itchakomi, I thought that would be the focus of the story. But then it seemed to be about defeating the antagonist Kapata. But then it seemed to be about finding a place to settle down and build a trading post. But then it seemed to be about finding one of the few remaining woolly mammoths. But then it seemed to be about dealing with the Spanish, and finding himself in the middle of a conflict between two Spanish soldiers.

The book always had a next horizon, a next quest, a next goal. All the quests that are introduced end up resolving by the end, but their lack of interconnectedness left the ending rather open – it’s obvious that there will be more, even if they aren’t told. As someone who likes tighter narratives, this bothered me a bit.

I was also a little disappointed into the survivalism aspects of the novel. I’m a bit of a survivalist fan – I cut my reader teeth on books like My Side of the Mountain and My Name is Disaster. I just can’t get enough of nitty-gritty stories of people surviving alone in the wilderness. Jubal had a lot of that, the focus tended to be Man vs Man, rather than Man vs Nature.

I did have fun with the book. I kept it on my phone as an emergency audiobook, to listen to while getting changed at work when I didn’t have have my normal audiobook to hand, for instance. Its slow, somewhat episodic narrative is perfect for these sorts of short burst readings, when I don’t need more than just a broad recollection of what’s already happened. The book is interesting in the moment, rather than as a whole.

I found the character of Jubal himself to be rather interesting. He’s the survivalist, but he’s also quiet, reserved, a reader. He often comes across more like a younger boy than a man, especially in how long it takes him to pick up on Itchakomi’s rather obvious flirtations. Even in his friendships, he seems somewhat emotionally immature. It felt like the book was written for a younger audience, with the main character’s emotional experiences being made relatable for that audience.

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Shaman’s Daughter by Nan Salerno & Rosamond Vanderburgh

Read: 10 September, 2012

I’ve always had a soft spot for stories about First Nations people, though there’s a very thin line between respect for the cultures and an idolization that sublimates the humanity of the cultures. Shaman’s Daughter, a collaboration between an anthropologist and a professor of literature, manages to present a suitably real picture of life at the turn of the last century.

The story follows Supaya (called Sophie by the whites) as she grows into adulthood, raises a family, and grows old. Through her life, we get to see the friction between the Church and the practitioners of the traditional faith and healing, the loss of identity of the residential schools and, later, the struggle to integrate and earn a living as an Indian, and the impact of World Wars 1&2 on the First Nations people.

The historical span is broad enough to show the changes as they were happening and, to some extent, their resolution.

The writing is also quite decent, and the book kept me engaged from start to finish.

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Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway

Read: 2006

Kiss of the Fur Queen is the story of two Cree brothers who were taken from their families to be raised in one of Canada’s infamous residential schools. The story follows them as adults as they come to terms with what happened to them.

It’s a magical story that interweaves the compelling story of the brothers and the more mystical elements of Cree tradition. Highway’s style is lyrical, but with a gritty realism that prevents it from ever seeming too purple.

I read Kiss of the Fur Queen as part of my university course on First Nations literature (as the “modern fiction” entry) and it was by far my favourite book of the course, perhaps of the entire year; and the beauty of the novel has stayed with me over the years. I can’t recommend it enough!

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Six Micmac Stories by Ruth Holmes Whitehead

I’ve recently started some research into fairytales and, while my focus has been on European myths, I have also been looking into other cultures.

I found this book to be very interesting. There are only six short stories, but they are well selected to cover a number of cultural aspects. I also enjoyed the short commentary provided after each story. It explained a bit about the symbolic significance of aspects of the story, as well as some cultural background necessary to appreciate the narrative.

Overall, it’s a a very short read, essentially a quick dip into Micmac storytelling. It’s by no means authoritative. The stories mostly have positive messages and, with the exception of a few scary moments, would be appropriate for kids.

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The Epic of Qayaq retold by Lela Kiana Oman

Read: 2006

As Qayaq’s siblings grow up, all leave home to seek their fortunes and never return. Qayaq, the youngest and last of his parents’ children, decides to go in search of his siblings. From there, the story cycles through episodes of Qayaq’s legendary journey over land and by kayak.

Qayaq has something of the trickster in him making these stories very interesting. In particular, I found the fluidity between the animal and human worlds very interesting. Qayaq is able to turn himself into animals and they into humans. Because the book is a collection of stories from an epic cycle each functions well alone and they make for a pleasantly varied experience if read all at once.

I especially enjoyed my edition because the edges of each page contained short summaries of the stories as well as illustrations that fit the action described. It may seem like only a small detail, but being able to see the Inupiat art along with the stories added a fantastic extra dimension.

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