The Way of Thorn and Thunder: The Kynship Chronicles

CanLit Rewind: Ten-Year Retrospective on The Way of Thorn and Thunder


Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian reviews KynshipWyrwood, and Dreyd: a queer Canadian book blog

 

A Review of Daniel Heath Justice's Kynship: The Queer, Indigenous, Feminist Fantasy Novel You Never Knew You Wanted So Bad

Posted on May 3, 2015 by caseythecanadianlesbrarian

I made a terrible mistake everyone. I had Kynship, the first book in the fantasy trilogy The Way of Thorn and Thunder by Daniel Heath Justice, sitting in the closet at my dad's house for like two years and I only read it a few weeks ago! I had originally bought it for a course on gender, feminism, and Indigenous literature, but we ended up not covering it in the class, which is really too bad because I would have discovered this novel and Daniel Heath Justice so much earlier!

There's so much to like about this book. It's just phenomenal fantasy from a queer and Indigenous (Cherokee) perspective. If you like fantasy, you really cannot go wrong with Kynship. Although it's published by a small Native press in Ontario, I found the whole series at the public library in Vancouver, so it's not even hard to get a hold of! It's the imaginative world-building, action, and suspense you can usually expect from fantasy, except with queer people, women, and (implicitly) Native folks at the forefront. There are also two-spirit / non-binary trans characters that straddle the gender worlds. What is not to love, I ask you?

I will warn readers who aren't familiar with fantasy that this book is very much in a high fantasy tradition, which includes sometimes lengthy descriptions of strange (and fascinating) places, people, and grand events like battles, council meetings, and so on. People who don't usually read fantasy (or science fiction, or other so-called genre fiction for that matter) often have trouble adjusting the way they read if they try to read something out of their comfort zone. I urge you to push yourself through that initial disorienting phase, and just think of it like this: it's a bit of a hurdle to jump over to orient yourself to this new world. It's just the same thing as reading a book set in a part of the (real) world you're not familiar with, or a book written two hundred years ago. There are clues there to guide you, I promise! The effort is worth it! I know for some people, fantasy just isn't their thing, and that's cool, but give it try! I used to think I didn't like science fiction and fantasy, and I was wrong.

What is really amazing about Kynship is that while the plot is clearly an allegory for colonization in the Americas, it really works on both levels. It's an exciting, action-packed tale full of flawed and fascinating characters going on epic quests, but it's also obviously a reference to actual past and ongoing colonization and a powerful critique at that. Sometime when an author has a political agenda and tries to create an allegory to depict it, the whole fictional side fails to work as an actual story, and then you have what should be an essay or something but is instead this kind-of-fiction that kind of sucks. This is NOT what Justice's book is like. In this way, I think Kynship has a lot to teach readers who might not be educated about colonization, addressing it in an unusual and engaging format. Kynship's successful allegory also makes it an amazing read for Indigenous readers (i.e., it's not just telling them things they already know).

So, shall I tell you about this action-packed tale full of flawed and fascinating characters? I should emphasize that there are a lot of characters, something also typical of fantasy, and I sometimes had trouble keeping track of them. Luckily, there is a handy index in the back that lists characters and nations, and other terms from the universe of the book that you need to know. There are also two maps for reference, which no great fantasy novel is without.

The main character, in this volume anyway, is Tarsa'deshae (Tarsa for short) and she's a bisexual former warrior whose destiny to be a Wielder—a kind of healer/priestess/witch with powerful and potentially dangerous powers—has recently been awakened. Abruptly ripped from her community because of her now marked difference, she begins a journey with her aunt, also a Wielder, to learn how to be what she has now discovered she is. This journey, however, is fraught with danger, because everything is changing for the different peoples in the once-peaceful Everland: Men (used here with all the sexist implications purposefully, I'm sure) are threatening their sovereignty, with an eye to their natural resources, offering promises in exchange for their land (sound familiar?).

Along the way Tarsa and her aunt meet all sorts of interesting folks, good and evil, and occasionally an in-between or an I'm-not-sure-whose-side-this-person-is-on. Tobhi, one such fellow traveller, also becomes a main character. He and his noble-maybe-not-so-noble steed Smudge—who is actually a deer with a mischievous mind of its own—provide some nice comic relief to the serious action (kind of like Gimli the dwarf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy). The three travellers eventually arrive in Sheynadwiin, the capital, for the most important council meeting the residents of the Everland have ever had: should they accept the treaty terms of Vald, a human leader, or should they hold fast to their roots and fight for their land?

I bet you can guess what they decide; of course, though, that's only the beginning of the story. I can't wait to read the second book and find out what happens next!

****

A Review of Daniel Heath Justice's Wyrwood, Book 2 in This Queer Native Fantasy Trilogy

Posted on May 25, 2015 by caseythecanadianlesbrarian

The second book in Cherokee author Daniel Heath Justice's fantasy trilogy The Way of Thorn and Thunder was possibly even better than its predecessor. If you want to know what this series is all about, check out my review of the first book, where I highly recommend it even if you're not usually a fantasy fan. Give fantasy a try! If you're interested, have a look at this page on the author's website. It gives you an overview of the world the books are set in, and some behind the scenes sketches of the characters as Heath Justice developed them over the years. Tarsa and Tobhi started off as Dungeons and Dragons characters! Pretty rad.

Wyrwood picks up just where Kynship leaves off. Tarsa and Tobhi are off on an epic journey to rescue diplomats who have been "guests" of the enemy leader Vald in the land of Men for far too long. Right from the start, Tarsa, in classic warrior mode, is kicking some serious ass and refusing to play nice with Vald while they are staying in his castle. She's so bad-ass, passionate, and head-strong, always thinking with her heart more than her head: you can't help but love her. Tobhi is also lovable, with his easy-going ways and sense of humour, but you wouldn't want to get on his bad side, either. They manage to escape the clutches of Vald—with who I won't tell you, as I don't want to spoil the surprise—but not before witnessing a terrible betrayal by one of their own! This is, of course, only the beginning of their journey.

One great thing about Wyrwood compared to Kynship is that you're familiar with the big cast of characters at this point, and so you're not having to check the glossary, saying, who is this person again and how do I know them? Also, Heath Justice spends more time on fewer characters this time around; I really enjoyed getting to know some of the characters in more depth, like Tobhi's love interest, Quill. In fact, Quill gets a whole storyline and adventure of her own in this volume. Despite never having left her home and being a humble doll-maker (she can also speak with the dolls), Quill sets off on a journey to play her own part in the story. She plans to march into the heart of the countries of Men, and convince another human leader to becomes allies of the Kyn and help defeat Vald. No big deal.

Quill didn't really know what she was getting herself into, going out into the wilderness on her own when it's crawling with colonialists, but luckily she runs into someone who I think is my favourite character yet, Denarra Syrene. She is a travelling musician and actress, as well as a Wielder—a kind of healer/priestess/witch who fulfills a vital role in traditional Kyn society. She's also a she-Strangeling—meaning she has human and Kyn background—and I just realized that I read her origin story in Sovereign Erotics, an anthology of two-spirit and/or queer Native writers (which I reviewed here) and that makes me love her even more (also, now I know she's trans!). She is laugh out loud funny, no-holds-barred campy, and irresistibly lovable. Apparently I think all these characters are lovable, actually? Take, for example, this offside in conversation with Quill:

It's not at all unlike the time I got into a bit of trouble in this unpleasant little town in the Allied Wilderlands called Swampy Creek. An unfortunate misunderstanding involving a rather handsome and remarkably well-endowed spice merchant, his utterly unsympathetic wife—who was, I might add, both surprisingly agile and utterly impervious to reason—as well as a three-legged mule with an aversion to freshwater pearls...

This book culminates in an epic battle scene at the important site of the tree of the Everland, which is the source of life and power for the tree-born Kyn people and now the setting for a civil war. Of course, I won't tell you how it ends, but I will say the book stops at quite the cliff-hanger. I've already got the third one out of the library and I can't wait to find out what happens next!

****

An Exhilarating End to Daniel Heath Justice's Queer Native Fantasy Trilogy: DREYD: THE WAY OF THORN AND THUNDER

Posted on July 14, 2015 by caseythecanadianlesbrarian

I can't imagine a better, more satisfying finish to Daniel Heath Justice's fantasy trilogy than Dreyd, the final, exhilarating book. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you should have a look at my review of the first and the second book in this fantastic series.

Like all good speculative fiction installments, Dreyd picks up just about where Wyrwood left off, but with a slight detour into the past. By book two, we already knew Vergis Thane—a man who hunts Kyn folk for their magic—and Denarra Syrene—a she-Strangeling, a travelling musician and actress, as well as a Wielder—had some kind of past. The very beginning of Dreyd takes us back to see how Thane has got as awful as he is, and why Denarra has a connection to this horrible guy. The plot thickens! I think Denarra's is my favourite storyline, and we get to see lots of her in this third book, including what her life in Chalimor, the capital in a far land of humans, is like.

Chalimor and Denarra's life aren't quite what her companion Quill expected, and their friendship is tested when the two reach the increasingly anti-Everland city, and they actually have to enact their plans to storm the government and get them to defend the people of the Everland. Uh, not surprisingly this plan does not go swimmingly, and there is a dark period where Quill and Denarra are stuck and frustrated, until they come up with this plan to blackmail a woman who built her reputation in high society "civilizing" people from the Everland. The way this plan unfolds will probably excite you, disappoint you, surprise you, and then excite you again. Watch how Denarra "convinces" this woman to help:

Same old Mardisha! I'd almost forgotten what a terrible temper you have! It's almost as distracting as that enormous mole on your forehead. Don't worry darling—I won't let either of those things get in the way of our little reunion. I'm a forgiving person. You see, I understand that you still have a bit of influence in high places, and I'm ever so eager to go to the Jubilee tonight...Mardisha, darling, I think you've misunderstood me. Let me clarify this in terms that even a half-wit like you can understand: this isn't a request.

While everything is going awry with Denarra and Quill, things get pretty low for Tobhi too, while he gets swept along to walk the Road with the Everland's exiles (in a clear reference to the Trail of Tears). Luckily, unbeknownst to Tobhi, his adopted sister/BFF Tarsa is following the exiles with a rescue plan in mind. The love triangle that has been dangling on the edges of Tarsa's story swings more towards centre focus, as she is now travelling with both Jitanti, a female Kyn warrior, and Daladir, a male Kyn diplomat. One woman and one man love interest! Bisexual drama! I can't help it, I'm a sucker for romance. You might be interested to know that this storyline takes a polyamorous turn, which is fun and totally appropriate for the world building.

Denarra, Quill, Tarsa, and Tobhi's stories, as well as many others (including the traitor Kyn character who signed away the lives of her people) culminate in a kind of battle-to-end-all-battles, where pretty much every character you've met shows up and surprises you with how tough and bad-ass they are, even if they're less than a quarter of the size of the enemy. People who you thought might not be allies pull through and, of course, good triumphs over evil.

The novel ends with a message of hope, that even without the land they have been disposed of, in particular the Eternity Tree that was their source of life, the Folk and their spirit will continue. It's not a rosy, everything-is-perfect ending, nor is it the ultimate ending (Heath Justice cleverly calls it "an ending"). But it is a very satisfying ending to a fun and smart set of fantasy books.

I really hope to hear more soon from these characters and Daniel Heath Justice! It looks like I'm in luck, actually, since I see on his website that he's got some other speculative fiction in the works, and is thinking of sequels for The Way of Thorn and Thunder!!


Hawkin Reads and Rambles reviews The Way of Thorn and Thunder: a blog review by an Aboriginal education specialist in Canada


Colorlines spotlight, by Daisy Hernandez



Excerpts

"A powerful heroic fantasy, notable for being set, not in the familiar myth-Europe of most such fantasies, but (like Liliana Bodoc's haunting Saga de los Confines) in the Old World of the Western Hemisphere, the Native American world, where the true, deep roots of magic are threatened by conquest and destruction."
--Ursula K. Le Guin, author of The Earthsea Cycle

"With The Way of Thorn and Thunder, Daniel Heath Justice has proved to be a world builder in the manner of Tolkien and Philip Pullman. His treatment of gender, environmental issues might remind some of Ursula Le Guin, but his insight is unique and indigenous, complete with the world tree, colonization. Fans of high fantasy will welcome this book from a writer to watch."
--Linda Hogan, author of People of the Whale

"Justice has created a fantasy epic so rich in history and so complex with all of its inhabitants and mystery that you're never going to want The Way of Thorn and Thunder to end. What a treasure for anyone looking for heroes and adventure in a series based on Aboriginal philosophy and wisdom."
--Richard Van Camp, author of The Lesser Blessed

"There is action and adventure aplenty in this epic tale . . . but there is something deeper as well. Like the magic that imbues his imagined world of spirit-trees and talking beasts, a true sense of wonder and enchantment wells up through Daniel Heath Justice's words. This is a realm that fantasy fans can immerse themselves in, and return to again and again; a realm that feels at once fresh and new, yet old as the oldest myth."
--Alison Baird, author of The Hidden World

"The Way of Thorn and Thunder by Daniel Justice is an intricately layered and carefully constructed tale of characters, customs and cultures in conflict during a time of change, with a definite anthropological flavor to it."--Robin Hobb, author of The Rain Wild Chronicles

"The Way of Thorn and Thunder is a beautifully wrought high fantasy novel, drawing from the unique and fascinating cultures of North America's aboriginal peoples but successfully creating a world and characters that stand on their own, and are even set apart from what we usually see in high fantasy. Readers who enjoy meticulously created landscapes and cultures, as well as language that is by turns both visceral and elegant, will likely find much to love in The Way of Thorn and Thunder."
--Karin Lowachee, author The Gaslight Dogs

"Beautiful and tragic; epic in its breadth and scope. Daniel Heath Justice is a master storyteller, effortlessly weaving a luscious tapestry of images and characters that will infuse your dreams, leaving you wanting to know more. The Way of Thorn and Thunder is a powerful allegory bursting with adventure and inspiration. I can't wait for Book Two!"
-- Michelle St. John, Actor, The Business of Fancydancing; Host, Red Tales, Aboriginal Voices Radio

"Within these pages Daniel Heath Justice has created a world as complex and detailed as any we live in. It should be no surprise to find this book sandwiched between Stephen Donaldson and J.R.R. Tolkien, and I'm not just talking alphabetically. It's a truly clever book."
-- Drew Hayden Taylor, Author, Funny, You Don't Look Like One: Observations of a Blue-Eyed Ojibway

"If you love the work of J.R.R. Tolkien or the Dragonlance series, you will love Kynship, Book 1 of The Way of Thorn and Thunder. Behold Oinara! It's Solace of the Dragonlance series and Middle Earth all rolled into one. Justice has created a fantasy epic so rich in history and so complex with all of its inhabitants and mystery that you're never going to want The Way of Thorn and Thunder to end. What a treasure for anyone looking for heroes and adventure in a series based on Aboriginal philosophy and wisdom."
--Richard Van Camp, Author, Angel Wing Splash Pattern

"A Cherokee-rooted fantasy that weaves a world every bit as challenging, dangerous, urgent, and joyful as our own, Kynship is a tale that shatters colonial myths. With this stunning debut novel, Justice helps decolonize the genre and brings us a story that is vital to Indigenous survival and resistance."
--Qwo-Li Driskill, Author, Walking with Ghosts: Poems

"I recommend it to readers who like their good and evil well defined but human enough to entertain, and all who have longed to cheer for nature and the bonds of community in the struggle against an alienating and avaricious lust for progress that is really all about amassing power."
--Lynda Williams, SF author of The Courtesan Prince

"There is action and adventure aplenty in this epic tale of conflict between Humans and other-worldly Kyn, but there is something deeper as well. Like the magic that imbues his imagined world of spirit-trees and talking beasts, a true sense of wonder and enchantment wells up through Daniel Heath Justice's words. This is a realm that fantasy fans can immerse themselves in, and return to again and again; a realm that feels at once fresh and new, yet old as the oldest myth."
--Alison Baird, author of The Hidden World

"The second book in Cherokee author Daniel Heath Justice's fantasy trilogy The Way of Thorn and Thunder was possibly even better than its predecessor....I highly recommend it even if you're not usually a fantasy fan. Give fantasy a try!"
--caseythecanadianlesbrarian.com review of Wyrwood (25 May 2015)

"If you like fantasy, you really cannot go wrong with Kynship. Although it's published by a small Native press in Ontario, I found the whole series at the public library in Vancouver, so it's not even hard to get a hold of! It's the imaginative world-building, action, and suspense you can usually expect from fantasy, except with queer people, women, and (implicitly) Native folks at the forefront. There are also two-spirit / non-binary trans characters that straddle the gender worlds. What is not to love, I ask you?"
--caseythecanadianlesbrarian.com review of Kynship (3 May 2015)

"...expertly fuses the genres of fantasy and [I]ndigenous literatures. Although the novel's setting echoes precolonial America, Justice has succeeded in creating a fantastical world of his own, in which the mystical race of Kyns [sic] struggle to maintain their world."
--World Literature Today (85.5, Sept./Oct. 2011)

"Some of us read fiction to get away from these dismal political times. But novelist Daniel Heath Justice gives us a better option: escape to an imaginary world where our rage can literally cause trees to uproot and strike the white men taking our community's land."
--Daisy Hernandez, Colorlines Magazine (Nov./Dec. 2006)

"...Kynship is a story of will, honour, and tradition, and how they are used to combat colonization. What separates this fantasy novel from others is that the main character, Tarsa'deshae—the Spearbreaker—is a queer female warrior. Tarsa'deshae, a member of the Kyn, is responsible for defending her nation from Men who are trying to rob her peoples' land, the Everland, of its resources. Does this sound familiar?"
--Jorge Vallejos, Redwire Magazine (Aug. 2006)

"Come on a journey of ancient worlds, mysterious creatures, warriors and primeval tales told through remarkable images and fantasy-driven dialogue. Think of it as Lord of the Rings set in the culture and wisdom of Aboriginal society in North America....Published by Kegedonce Press, this fantasy epic could have been written by J.R.R. Tolkien—if he was Indian."
--Spirit Magazine, Autumn 2005