Daughter of Kura
by Debra Austin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Mother of Kura / 978-1-439-11266-3
According to the dust jacket for "Daughter of Kura", author Debra Austin is an amateur writer with an avid interest in paleontology. As a result, "Daughter of Kura" is a mix of interesting paleontological ideas and factoids, a rather basic and thin-worn plot, and poor overall characterizations. As such, although this is a decent first attempt at a novel, I think the bulk of the book's happy readers will be interested due to the niche appeal of pre-history literature.
A crippling factor in the poor character development is that author Austin is deeply concerned about writing only what we 'know' about these pre-historical races. In the epilogue, for instance, she explains that she refrained from giving the characters in the book a spoken language because we don't yet know whether they had the requisite voice boxes needed in order to speak and she didn't want the novel to be rendered inaccurate due to future discoveries. This timid "but I might be wrong later" approach is a terrible way to write a novel and means that after the basic "must have" characterizations are filled in, we are given nothing else about the characters. There are literally *no* physical descriptions about any of the characters in this book except that the head-woman is old, the villain has a shaved head, and the men have varying degrees of erections when they meet with the main character (male erections are featured prominently in whether or not she feels she can trust a man).
As a general rule of thumb, when a detail might be wrong, Austin therefore gives us none. After reading this 300+ page novel, I cannot tell you whether the characters wear clothes for either warmth or decoration, whether they bathe for either sanitation or vanity, whether or not they (or others in the area) have attempted to domesticate animals or tried to create their own groves of edible plants. I can't tell you whether the characters have purely decorative items like statues or 'mirrors' made from, I don't know, reflective turtle shells or something. I can't tell you if they wear beads or jewelry or have any kind of ornaments to indicate status. I can't even say with authority how much body hair they have, although it's suggested that they are hairier than us. How much hairier? Austin doesn't know, so neither do we. The practical upshot of this is that it is next to impossible to tell all the characters apart when the only thing we know about them is their name. Is 'Whistle' the mother of 'Snap', or was it 'Warble'? Was 'Hum' the older aunt or was that 'Bubble'? What is the gender of 'Rustle' or was it 'Ripple' or am I thinking of 'Rumble'? This complete lack of characterization means that each character is forgotten as rapidly as the turn of a page.
The plot, unfortunately, is as two-dimensional as the characters. The villain shows up early and might as well be twirling a mustache for all the subtlety he presents. (Snap knows he is evil because he doesn't have an erection when he first meets her, unlike all the other men.) After about 100+ pages of hemming and hawing, he pretty much takes over the village by proclaiming that a god exists (the Kurans have been atheists up to this point) and that this god sends orders directly to him and him alone. Also, people who stand in his way to power have a tendency to fall off of cliffs while hunting alone with him. I can't tell if the fact that no one finds this suspicious except the main character is because Austin is making the old mistake that "everyone must be dumb in order to facilitate the plot" or a new mistake along the lines of "everyone must be dumb because this is a pre-historical society".
The "religion and men are bad, atheism and women are good" mentality drives most of the plot, and I would have liked it if Austin had maybe taken a moment to point out that the underlying issue isn't necessarily religion, per se, but rather an egotistical, power-tripping murderer who is using religion as a club to consolidate power, but that distinction is never made. I find it strange and odd that a society that is surprisingly rigid and structured under the circumstances (for example, Whistle's mother is absolutely furious when Whistle breaks the rules and doesn't pick a mate at the yearly Bonding ceremony because her usual mate is a few days late to return in a world without clocks or GPS devices) would suddenly turn a complete about-face and change every one of their customs and practices on the say so of a complete stranger. I find it irksome that no one notices that people have a tendency to accidentally die when they are alone with the villain, as if they are all such innocent children of nature that the concept of murder is completely foreign to them. For that matter, it seems particularly odd that none of them have ever heard of religion or gods until the stranger shows up (where are the rudimentary thunder-gods and volcano-gods?) and it is doubly odd that the first god they come up with feels suspiciously close to a personal Christian god, given that they are always asking for close personal favors from this 'Great One'. I'm not an avid paleontological enthusiast, but I'm pretty sure that religion generally doesn't usually evolve from "atheism" to "loving spirit who loves you" in one generational leap.
If you're an avid reader of pre-history fiction, this book will probably grab your attention. I'm certainly willing to believe that it's one of the better ones in a niche market like this - the book has been carefully written and edited, and the plot and characters are passable if not stellar. Though I felt the plot was very predictable and the characters frustratingly dense, I didn't hate reading the book, but I probably won't read it again either. Check it out at a library first, would be my recommendation.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
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