Monday, May 04, 2009

New this Week: Shadow Valley by Steven Barnes

Readers familiar with Barnes’ work before 2006’s Great Sky Woman (released in paperback just last month) will have an understandable challenge in knowing what to do with Shadow Valley (DelRey). On the one hand, Barnes is best known as a genre writer. That’s actually an understatement: Barnes is an esteemed and much awarded author in the twinned worlds of science fiction and fantasy. And since he’s also married to yet another esteemed author of speculative fiction -- Tananarive Due -- it’s a sort of familial thing. We have our expectations of Barnes. But does he deliver? Well, yes. But in unexpected ways.

Like Great Sky Woman, Shadow Valley holds not the merest thread of SF/F. No matter how hard you try to find it, it just isn’t there. This is straight up historical fiction, but more Jean Auel than James Michener: this is creation historical fiction. Or maybe most accurately prehistorical fiction. In Shadow Valley we go way back to ancient Africa where Sky Woman and Frog Hopping -- first encountered in Great Sky Woman -- are dealing with life beyond the devastating eruption of Father Mountain that concluded the last book.

This is exciting stuff. Epic, page snappingly thrilling, not to be missed. The literati have a way at holding their nose when they sense the faintest whiff of SF/F nearby. My hope is that Barnes’ literary pedigree won’t overshadow the excellence of this work. It’s a worthwhile book that has the potential to help a lot of people gain an understanding of their distant roots.

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