Hopefully, our book reviews reflect this ideal. I have been lucky enough in my life to have been blessed with librarians and bookstore owners and voracious reader friends, and as a member of the Society, I want to continue this tradition of sharing the treasures that come my way.
Therefore, I am very very excited to tell you about Captive Spirit, a debut romance from Liz Fichera, published this summer by Carina Press. You may have had the pleasure of reading an interview with the author a few weeks ago in which she told us a little about the history that sparked this novel — the story of a Native American tribe known as the Hohokam, which translates as “the ones who left.” From this factual framework, Captive Spirit was created.
It’s the story of Aiyana, a teenager living in the Sonoran Desert at the dawn of the sixteenth century. When her father arranges her marriage to a man she hardly knows, she flees, only to be captured by mercenary Spanish raiders who consider her just another trade good. Her village — and her best friend Honovi — far behind, Aiyana must find a way to return home, to the people she loves, but also to a culture that has no neat category for her. But first, she must survive.
Fichera’s attention to craft is obvious and exemplary; she deftly pulls off the intricate balance of setting, action and characterization needed to move this narrative forward. Aiyana’s story is achingly familiar to anyone who has ever stretched against the confines of their culture, and yet it is utterly foreign at the same time. The Hohokam no longer exist; they are a footnote in history. And yet we as readers must identify with this young woman even though the choices and obstacles in her path may seem alien to us. Her people are quite literally ghosts now, walking and talking on the page, but otherwise vanished. And yet we must care about them, and Aiyana, as if they were our own people.
This is where Captive Spirit shines, with this deft interplay of explication and action. The narrative keeps the reader engrossed by presenting situations that still resonate even today — familial obligations, cultural demands, necessary capitulations — and it pulls off this trick by evoking the emotions that all humans share — faith, hope, grief, and love. In this book, the universal is personal, deeply felt and honestly rendered.
The characters are complicated. No one is a caricature, not even the fierce Apache chieftain or the calculating Spaniard who each holds her life in his hands. Each character, no matter how treacherous, no matter how decent, is a complex identity. Villains act with compassion and tenderness in certain contexts, while good people erupt in brutal violence in others.
But at its heart, Captive Spirit is a romance, a surprisingly delicate love story playing out against the hardscrabble landscapes of desert and mountain. Aiyana is no delicate maiden — she gets blood on her hands, literally, as she hunts and fishes and endures hardships beyond her previous experience. Her love is no adolescent crush, and she is no hothouse flower.
Some books tell one person’s story with such precise detail and honest attention that the story can be read again and again, for as the reader changes, so do the understandings that unfold with the narrative. Captive Spirit is that kind of book. I am grateful it came my way.
Suggested beverage pairing — I’d choose a unfiltered wheat beer for this story. Nothing heavy, but something honest and unpretentious, something rich with the land and the sun and the rain that produced it.
Liz is an author from the American Southwest by way of Chicago. She likes to write stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things, oftentimes against the backdrop of Native American legends. Her debut historical romance novel was published in June 2010 by Carina Press. Don’t hesitate to connect with her around the web and especially at her web site because it can get real lonely in the desert.