Sunday, April 15, 2012

Misfits & Heroes: West from Africa

Misfits & Heroes:  West from Africa, by Kathleen Flanagan Rollins, takes place around 12,000 BC, and as you may have guessed, starts off in Africa.  Naaba is an outcast from his village and a wanderer.  It has been a long time since he's been part of a village, so when he comes upon one, he is drawn to it and watches a weaver at her work.  While in this village, he finds Asha, a woman being held captive, and he frees her.  She is drawn to water, and follows it even when it cannot be seen, and she decides to join Naaba in his wandering, so that she may follow the water without being punished.

Naaba and Asha follow the river until they see a circle of standing stones.  Naaba especially is curious, and this is the point where the book really takes off.  Naaba and Asha fall in with a group of people and become a part of something that will change forever the course of everyone's lives.  The Black Rhino, a power-hungry leader, has a grand vision of uniting all the people and all the villages as one.  The campaign to bring this into being, however, is violent, and opposition is not met with in a diplomatic way.  One of his main concerns is another leader, Dwyka, the She-Eagle, and it is between these forces and the conflicts that arise that Naaba and Asha find themselves.  They know they must find a new place.  They become thrown together with a group of people, some they are familiar with, and some strangers, and they all set off together down the river and out into the sea, where none of them have ever been.

Misfits & Heroes is not your typical adventure novel, perhaps mainly because it takes place so long ago.  I really wasn't sure quite what to expect, but Rollins has created something wonderful in this book.  Whether or not many of the details could be accurate, I don't know, but they are believable in the context of the story, and I got very caught up in the setting.  I also truly enjoyed all the characters.  I felt like I had a good sense of each of them, and I was concerned for them at every challenge that was presented.  Some of them, I could see being described as "one-dimensional," but even those characters were likable in their one-dimensionality, and in contrast, other characters were rather complex.

For me, this was much more than just a novel about a group of people who are thrown together by circumstance and set off to make a new life in a new land.  This is a book about people finding themselves - discovering who they are as individuals, as well as who they are in the group, what their role is, if they have one.  I enjoyed following along as each of them struggled in a way with these discoveries, some more than others.  The group's wandering reminded me a little of one of my favorite children's books, Le Petit Prince; in that book, the little prince wanders from place to place, meeting interesting people and discovering a new lesson at each one.  This group's journey was a lot like that, I thought.  There was something to be learned at each place they had to stop.  What I especially liked about this is that the lessons were not lost on Naaba and Asha and their new friends, and in the learning, they grew more individually and grew stronger as a group.

I get the feeling this is one of those books that not many people are going to know about, but that everyone should read at some point; the characters in it are not the only ones who might be able to pull something significant from the things they go through.

This book was sent to me for review by the author, and I'm very glad she offered it!  She maintains a blog about things ancient, so anyone curious about background information related to the book, or just antiquity in general should check it out here!


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