I previously reviewed the first part of this saga (https://saylingaway.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1354&action=edit), which was published as a novella. The story has now been expanded into a saga – a meticulously researched story of the interaction of an early Homo sapiens woman, Raven, with a Neanderthal man she calls Longhead, who was captured by her tribe. Raven is a healer, and in treating the captive for a dislocated shoulder and seeing to his care, she develops a bond with him.
The chronicles weave back and forth from the present to the past, continuing the story of Mark Hayek in the present. Mark is an introverted scientist of Lebanese ancestry and has a larger than normal proportion of his DNA identified as Neanderthal. About 1-2% of our DNA is Neanderthal, as the result of Neanderthal-Home sapiens interbreeding (see my post: How Much of Us is Neanderthal? at https://saylingaway.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1361&action=edit). Mark is unusual in that his DNA is 3% Neanderthal. Is it because of this that he develops a real interest in early modern man and seeks to feel their presence in places where they lived?
When the Neanderthal captive is released, Raven follows him and when they meet, they engage in a moment of passion before he treks on, back to his people. Raven becomes pregnant and first tries to hide her pregnancy, then get rid of it. When that fails, she pretends that the child is from her sister’s husband, Bear, who has been co-habiting with her as well. Although she is treated as a slave by most of the tribe, she has a talent for finding and honing just the right stone for spear points. Finally, she decides to leave the tribe with the help of Leaf, a young brave who loves her. She fakes her death so Bear, who treats her brutally, will not follow. She and Leaf then begin the long trek across the steppes and find the father of her baby.
Mark’s story begins with the request from his mother that he go to Turkey to collect the ashes of her brother, Sami. Although Sami had a son, Anton, he made his sister the executor of his estate, and asked that she bring his ashes back to Israel. Although both Mark and his mother question why Anton was not made the executor, the inheritance will bring financial relief to them both. Mark agrees to go and is met at the Ben-Gurion airport by Anton and is immediately suspicious of him. Anton’s off-again on-again bonhomie reinforces Mark’s disquiet, which is only mitigated by Anton’s taking him to various caves in Israel where early humans were known to live. In one that is privately owned and where both Neanderthal and modern human bones have been found, Mark discovers a bladed stone of quartz hidden away in an invisible niche, possibly for thousands of years.
You absolutely need to read the Chronicles to find out what happens to Raven. Will she eventually find the baby’s husband? Will she and Leaf become a couple? Will she be accepted by the Longhead tribe? Will Bear find her?
And what happens to Mark? When Anton takes him to Turkey to collect his father’s ashes, he lures him to a cave with the promise of more prehistoric artifacts, but instead delivers him to kidnappers demanding a million-dollar ransom before they will let him go. How does his escape and how does the skull he finds in the cave where they hold him relate to the spear point? Is there a possible link of Mark to Raven, who lived during the late Pleistocene?
I loved the saga, and hated it when I had to leave one line of the story to return to the other, only to be drawn into the other with as much interest. For anyone who wonders about our prehistoric ancestors, this book is perfect. The characters are well-limned and the historical detail right up there with Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series.
The author writes the present-day story line in present tense, to differentiate it, and I will admit I found it jarring to switch from past to present initially. Also, the thought processes of Raven and the other Homo sapiens might be more sophisticated than those of an early modern human, although more of their brains were devoted to cognitive function that those of Neanderthals. But then the story would not be nearly as interesting, right?
Hopefully I haven’t given too much away. This is a book I can enthusiastically recommend and I’m looking forward to more from this author!
About the author
Harper Swan lives in Tallahassee, Florida with her husband and two sweet but very spoiled cats. She is the author of has Gas Heat, a story of family angst taking place in the Deep South, and found the inspiration in the books by Jean Auel. She has drawn on her interests in archaeology, genetics, ancient history and archaeological finds from Paleolithic sites to create the world of the Replacement Chronicles.
You can find her on
and twitter (@HarperSwan1)