I like books that travel back and forth in time, and this novella didn’t disappoint. The author uses the recent discovery that Neanderthal and Homo sapiens interbred and weaves just such a story. It begins in the present when Mark Hayek finds out from a company called Genetics and Me – which he had hoped would help him with Parkinson’s research – had actually tested his genome for Neanderthal DNA. And found it.
The book then drops back in time to the Late Pleistocene era in western Asia, where a band of early modern humans, led by Bear and including Raven, a healer and sister to his wife, come upon a group of Neanderthals hunting bison. They drive off the Neanderthals and take the bison the group had killed for meat, but also take one who was injured in the attack as a prisoner. Raven takes a deep interest in the man, watching him closely.
Bear throughout treats Raven, the new member of his family, with disdain, but nevertheless takes her as his mate, once the hunters have returned to their tribal home. Raven then uses what little hold she has over Bear to be allowed to reset the prisoner’s dislocated shoulder. As a former EMT, I found the description of this process to be spot on.
Two things occur to confound Raven: her sister treats her coldly in response to Bear’s absence from the tent at night, and suddenly the prisoner is gone, freed to return to his own tribe. Intermingled with Raven’s adventure are details of early human life in tribal groups and wonderful descriptions of the tribal hierarchy, food, and hunting, creating a rich palette against which the story is told.
You absolutely need to read this book to find out how Raven will handle her sister’s rebuke and whether Raven cares enough about the Neanderthal to follow him when he leaves. And what about Mark’s Neanderthal genes?
This story is, to my untrained eyes, meticulously researched, and has a great premise. I am hooked and looking forward to the next novella.