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Great Sky Woman by Steven Barnes
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Great Sky Woman

by Steven Barnes

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Great Sky Woman not only manages to completely avoid condescension and anachronism, but goes on to immerse its reader deep into the detailed world and complex culture that it creates.

The story gives an account of the Ibandi, a fictional indigenous tribe at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, probably thousands of years before European civilizations began. The story focuses on Frog Hopping, a young boy of the tribe who aspires to become a hunt chief, and T'Cori (which literally translates to "nameless" in Ibandi), a girl who was abandoned by her parents and ends up apprenticed to the Dream Dancers (medicine women). Both must survive during a time of change: Father Mountain (Kilimanjaro) breathes fire and ash into the sky and a foreign tribe, larger and fiercer than the Ibandi, has invaded their lands. During all of this, they must grow, find love, and find their places in the tribe.

Great Sky Woman is simultaneously a heartrending coming-of-age story and a wonderfully detailed account of a foreign civilization. For me, the power of the story came from how immersive and natural the civilization felt. The language of the Ibandi is simple, but never feels simplistic. They consider times in quarters and sunsets, describe their bodies in terms of their seven "eyes" (face, hands, feet, genitalia), count in groupings of fives--the number of fingers on a hand--and more. Barnes references and details elaborate ceremonies and social mores and makes them feel natural and immersive. I'm not sure about Barnes' background, but I did get a sense from the book that some significant research went into the story, woven together by Barnes' imagination. When I went through my mythological/folklore phase, I focused heavily on Celtic and European societies. When I did attempt to dip into other civilizations, I was often disappointed. Such stories often felt unemotional or condescending towards their subjects, possibly because they typically came from an oral tradition and only xenophobic foreigners or unemotional anthropologists transcribed them. Barnes tells his story as a true storyteller. I didn't always like all of the characters or approve of their decisions, but I always felt that I had a glimpse into another world, and that rather than looking down into it, I was inside the community itself.

Overall, I recommend Great Sky Woman to anyone looking for a very different type of read: a story of a very different culture and of coming of age within it. ( )
  page.fault | Sep 21, 2013 |
At the beginning of Great Sky Woman we are introduced to Stillshadow, the leader of the tribe's dream dancers (medicine women) and we witness the birth of the girl and the boy who will usher out the Ibandi's old ways and lead the way into new ones. Good, speculative fiction taking place in the distant past...recommended for readers of prehistorical fiction.

I'll probably read more by Steven Barnes.
  hailelib | Mar 17, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345459008, Hardcover)

Thirty thousand years ago, in the heart of the African continent and in the shadow of the largest freestanding mountain in the world, lived the Ibandi. For countless generations they nurtured their ancient tradition, and met survival’s daily struggle with quiet faith in their gods. But when brutal intruders arrived from the south, a few brave souls dared the ultimate quest–to climb the Great Mountain, seeking answers and a way into the future.

In this breathtaking blend of imagination, anthropology, and sheer storytelling magic, Steven Barnes takes us to the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro and into the realm of our own ancestors, who lived, hunted, celebrated, and died side by side with roaming herds of wild animals and great golden clouds of migrating butterflies. A people whose skin was the color and smell of the earth itself, the Ibandi formed a hierarchy based on strength of limb and spirit. In this extraordinary novel, we follow the adventures of two of the Ibandi’s chosen ones: T’Cori, an abandoned girl raised by the powerful and mysterious medicine woman Stillshadow, and Frog Hopping, a boy possessing a gift that is also a curse.

Though the live in different encampments, Frog and T’Cori are linked through the revered and powerful Stillshadow, who has sensed in them a destiny apart from others’.

Through the years, and on their separate life paths, T’Cori’s and Frog’s fates entwine as an inevitable disaster approaches from the south–from the very god they worship. For as long as there have been mountain, sky, and savannah, there has been a home for the Ibandi. Now, in the face of an enemy beyond anything spoken of even in legend, they must ask their god face-to-face: Do we remain or do we depart?

Great Sky Woman not only brings to life the world of prehistoric man but also shines a brilliant light on humanity itself. For here is a story of rivalries and alliances, of human fear and desire, of faith and betrayal . . . and, above all, a story of how primitive man, without words or machines, set in motion civilization’s long, winding journey to the present.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:46 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"In this blend of imagination, anthropology, and storytelling magic, Steven Barnes takes us to the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro and into the realm of our own ancestors, who lived, hunted, celebrated, and died side by side with roaming herds of wild animals and great golden clouds of migrating butterflies. A people whose skin was the color and smell of the earth itself, the Ibandi formed a hierarchy based on strength of limb and spirit. In this extraordinary novel, we follow the adventures of two of the Ibandi's chosen ones: T'Cori, an abandoned girl raised by the powerful and mysterious medicine woman Stillshadow, and Frog Hopping, a boy possessing a gift that is also a curse." "Through they live in different encampments, Frog and T'Cori are linked through the revered and powerful Stillshadow, who has sensed in them a destiny apart from others'." "Through the years, and on their separate life paths, T'Cori and Frog's fates entwine as an inevitable disaster approaches from the south - from the very god they worship. For as long as there have been mountain, sky, and savannah, there has been a home from the Ibandi. Now, in the face of an enemy beyond anything spoken of even in legend, they must ask their god face-to-face: Do we remain or do we depart?"--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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