The Dawn Country
by Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
The Dawn Country, a sequel to People of the Longhouse, is set during the Middle Iroquoian period in what is now New England. Archaeological evidence suggests that around 1400 A.D. the Iroquois went through a long period of violent warfare and divided into separate tribes which lived in large, fortified villages. Children growing up during such intense warfare must have suffered lasting psychological effects, and The Dawn Country portrays this with unflinching sympathy.
The Iroquois held mystical beliefs about the survival of human souls after physical death. Sorcerers, they believed, could enslave these souls through frightening, sometimes gruesome ceremonies. Vivid scenes bring this belief system alive for readers. People of the Longhouse introduced an evil sorceress, Gannajero, who buys and sells children for use as sex slaves. The Dawn Country opens following a devastating attack on a village. Amid the confusion, Gannajero buys new children to replace several who have escaped. The story follows numerous characters, including children who have escaped, have been left behind, or have been newly enslaved. Some of their parents, even though they come from villages at war with each other, band together to rescue the children. Koracoo, a woman war chief, leads the band. She wields an ancient war club. "It was old and made from a dark wood that did not grow in their country.... Throughout their territories, CorpseEye was known as a frightening magical weapon, capable of sniffing out enemies even at great distances."
There's plenty of violence, but the sexual abuse happens strictly offstage. Because there are so many main characters, the early part of the story may be confusing for those who have not read the previous novel. Both novels are part of the lengthy First North Americans series. The novels in the series range from Alaska in 13,000 B.C. to Florida in 6000 B.C. and New Mexico in 1100 A.D. Most can stand alone. The People of the Longhouse novels, though, are probably best read in order. (2011; 300 pages, including a Nonfiction Introduction and a Selected Bibliography)
More about The Dawn Country at Powell's Books or Amazon.com
Other novels set in North America before the coming of Europeans:
People of the Longhouse by Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear (2010), #1 in the People of the Longhouse series, of which The Dawn Country is #2. More info
Cricket Sings: A Novel Of Pre-Columbian Cahokia by Kathleen King (1983), about a woman of the Cahokia people in what is now Illinois. More info
Picture Maker by Penina Keen Spinka (2002), about a woman in fourteenth century North America who draws pictures that foretell the future, and her migrations northward and across the sea to Greenland. More info
Nonfiction about the early Iroquois:
Iroquoia: The Development of a Native World by William Englebrecht (2003). More info
The Iroquois by Dean R. Snow (1996). More info
White Roots of Peace: The Iroquois Book of Life by Paul Wallace (1994). More info
Iroquois article at Wikipedia
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