Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Shaman Shaman
by Kim Stanley Robinson

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Simon Litten

Shaman is Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest published novel, and by all appearances is a standalone work. Given the current propensity for fantasy trilogies I was half expecting this to be volume one of some fantasy epic, but no Mr Robinson has limited the story to one book. (What the next two titles would have been I don’t know; I got stuck at Witch Doctor.)

Shaman is the story of Loon, reluctant apprentice to the current tribal shaman Thorn, and his rites of passage through to becoming a shaman in his own right. During the course of the narrative Loon graduates from boy to man, gains a family, is enslaved, and decides that he really does want to be a shaman for himself and not as a placeholder for his dead father (who was Thorn’s previous apprentice).

Anyone expecting a gore-spattered tale of inter-familial violence, with devious curses and despicable magics will be disappointed, although there is action and danger aplenty – just not any of the action or danger is fantastical. Shaman could be described as a diary of the last ice age. Mr Robinson presents a warts and picture of life near the ice-cap, with Loon, Thorn and their tribe acting as a collective everyman of life during this period. Fortunately, Loon and company are not mere authorial ciphers but are characters in their own right and this reader was very interested in their progress and fate as the action in the book unfolded.

I found Shaman to be an excellent counterpoint to the sugar coated, fantasy epics that adorn bookshop shelves these days. Not to decry those epics (as I’ve been known to read them) but sometimes one needs that little voice quoting Monty Python’s Yorkshireman: "Well, we ‘ad it tuff." Mr Robinson too has graduated to shaman status by showing how hard and, paradoxically, how rich life could be before there was real magic to make fantasy easy and has delivered a real story in the process. I shall eat a lunch of smoked salmon and berries in his honour.

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