The best stories don’t burst from the author’s mind fully-formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. Rather, they are in our DNA, nurtured over the centuries by successive generations, until the simple seed of an idea has grown into an archetype to which we can all relate. In her excellent book, Shaman’s Blood, Anne Petty continues the time honored tradition of dipping into these foundational stories and crafting a modern story of her own. But what makes her book even more remarkable is that she chooses as her inspiration the legends of aboriginal Australia, something of which most of her readers are probably unfamiliar. It’s a risky move, but Petty so easily and seamlessly integrates these legends into modern America that our lack of familiarity with them is not jarring. Rather, our ignorance only adds to the darkness and the mystery that surrounds the main characters, as we travel with them into the unknown.
Fundamentally, Shaman’s Blood is the history—past, present, and future—of a family. Petty plays with time throughout the novel, traveling back and forth between periods as distinct as ancient Australia, turn of the century Florida, San Francisco in the 1960s, and the present. By doing so, as we learn about Alice and her daughter Margarette, we also come to understand Alice’s father, Ned, and the horror that drives the hostility that Alice’s mother, Suzanne, feels towards her. But it’s not all domestic drama. An ancient evil stalks Alice’s family, one driven by the crime of an ancestor she never even knew existed. And if Alice can’t right this wrong, committed decades before she was born, that evil will not only destroy her, but her daughter as well.
I enjoyed so many of the things Petty does in Shaman’s Blood that it’s hard to know where to start. The horror itself is fantastic, drawing upon many of our darkest terrors, including that ancient and fairly universal fear of snakes. Her knowledge of Australian mythology is voluminous (Or else she does a very good job of faking it). Perhaps more importantly, she never overwhelms us or confuses us with that mythology. Rather, she slowly works it into the narrative in a way that feels natural and easy. The characters are complex and interesting, with personalities and flaws all their own. I found myself rooting for them because of those flaws more than I would if Petty had simply given us hero stereotypes. I was also interested to learn this is a sequel to Petty’s earlier Thin Line Between. I am happy to report that no prior knowledge is required to enjoy Shaman’s Blood, though if you are like me, you’ll probably want to check out Thin Line Between when you finish.
All in all, Shaman’s Blood is a fascinating and entertaining journey into ancient legends and cultures. I recommend it highly. Just watch out for snakes.