What I gleaned about the story: With her mother now dead it falls to young Juma to lead her family, so she leads them to a village.
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Note: Fabulous cover. It can be hard to find the right balance when you’re straddling two different genres, but this cover does an excellent job (to my eye) of suggesting both fantasy and romance.
Note: A fantasy novel set in prehistoric Africa? I’m already intrigued.
Analysis: The opening scene begins with a family group moving across the hot, dry African plain. We don’t know where they’re going, exactly, but it has been made clear that they are traveling slowly to conserve energy in the heat. However, we are then immediately told that the protagonist: trotted silently after her father. Trotted? They’re jogging? That doesn’t at all conform to the image I’ve been given of the cautious, plodding pace they’ve been keeping.
Note: There is a vague oddness to the prose. I know the author is not a native English speaker, but it feels like that skill-set may have been missing from the editing team as well. It’s hard to put my finger on any one passage that’s actually wrong, but solid prose has a flow to it that seems absent here, or at least, spotty. There are also a number of odd word choices. Nothing WTF-worthy yet, but enough to create background static in the immersion signal.
Analysis: The protagonist is telling us how her nomadic cave-family will struggle to survive the coming winter if the weather doesn’t cooperate. She tells us: If the rain didn’t come soon, the tribe would find it hard to make ends meet this year.
Make ends meet? Upon investigation, I learned that the metaphor is actually very old, but that was only after it had jerked me out of the story. I only ever hear that phrase in the context of very modern concerns: checkbooks, monthly mortgage payments, grocery shopping at the Quiki-mart, etc. So the effect, for me, was to suddenly visualize this pre-historic nomad girl wandering through a Walmart, trying to decide which new spear she could afford.
Analysis: At the bottom of the first page, the family is entering a village and the narrator tells us: Juma’s father pulled his plain brown kikoi closer and pointed to the wide open gates in the fence of prickly bushes that surrounded the village and kept it save from lions and other dangers.
I realize that “save” is a simple mistyping of “safe,” but when I first read it, I thought it meant “kept it <comma> except from lions” and I couldn’t figure out what use a protective fence would be if it didn’t keep out lions. (The old-fashion construction of “save from” meaning “except from”.)
Note: In retrospect, all three problems cited today stem from a lack of nuanced feel for the language. I suspect the story is actually very good. I liked what I saw of the character dynamics and the situation they were in. But in terms of immersion, it was the little language things that kept yanking me out. I wonder how much further I’d have made it if the story had been reviewed by a really nuance-savvy native English speaker.