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Past the Last Island

Past the Last Island, August 2015
Misfits and Heroes Adventures #2
by Kathleen Flanagan Rollins

Author Self-Published
Featuring: Nulo; Laido; Darna
365 pages
ISBN: 1514214806
EAN: 9781514214800
Kindle: B012HVHBEM
e-Book (reprint)
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"When you've explored past the last island - what awaits?"

Fresh Fiction Review

Past the Last Island
Kathleen Flanagan Rollins

Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted January 19, 2016

Young Adult Adventure | Fiction Adventure | Fantasy Historical

I admire the premise of the series Misfits and Heroes Adventures which posits that people who had it good in the prehistoric past were not innovators and explorers; it was the misfits who moved on and questioned. Like Nulo, a South Sea islander born with dwarfism so rejected and brought up illicitly by a midwife. He has to learn a trade of stone- knapping in secret and has to look PAST THE LAST ISLAND in the chain for a safe home.

If you've read CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR, or THE ROOF OF VOYAGING, this mix of prehistoric daily life and the spirit world will feel familiar. When a comet appears among the night sky features used for navigation, the eerie sight is taken to be a foretelling of death, and the outcast Nulo is blamed for drawing the village's misfortunes. His survival depends on getting far away. Also fleeing a change of leadership is the boat designer Laido and his boat racer Ryu, the weaver woman Darna and her daughter Nina. But as the clan they left becomes increasingly warlike, perhaps they can't travel far enough. Nature also has dangers to throw at the group.

I particularly enjoy the nature descriptions; the fish, birds and banyan trees and the various shells and corals needed to create tools. A fermented drink is made from breadfruit and palm hearts. Basic astronomy is demonstrated, a valuable skill, and a volcanic eruption shatters the world. The character sketches are also straightforward and very readable, with easily understood motivations and opportunities for growth. With shared innovations in sailing craft and kites, the little outcast group can travel further and faster, while others turn back for home.

This is a lively, resourceful band of disparate people, with the fact of being misfits or on the run all that links them. The sea is their home and each new island a stopping point to be explored and left. In this way they may even discover a new continent. I had great fun reading PAST THE LAST ISLAND which is part of a dramatic series telling how different peoples explored the world in prehistory. This is to be followed by A MEETING OF CLANS which looks at Mexico 14,000 years ago. I'm keen to read it and continue the adventure. Kathleen Rollins has put a great deal of thought and research into her writing and has created some delightful or opprobrious characters to people her world.

Learn more about Past the Last Island

SUMMARY

The South Pacific Islands, 14,000 years ago – crossroads of cultures from Asia to Australia

After their island is ravaged by tidal flooding, some villagers turn to a brutal leader for protection, but others flee by night, taking to the open sea in a quest to find a new life. They meet others along the way, people driven to find whatever lies beyond the edge of the world.

On the great open sea, they enter a world still ruled by spirits, a place of wonders where beauty and danger live side by side. Some give their life to the journey.

Excerpt

Chapter 1 – The Chief’s Son

Signs. I can’t see any signs. I don’t even know what to look for.

“It’s about balance,” the shaman had said. “Good and bad. You must find the temper of the mixture that will determine the child’s future.”

That hadn’t helped.

Signs. The sky deep and clear: a good sign, usually. The trees heavy with fruit: another good sign. The birth of the empty moon last night: a bad sign for mothers but perhaps not important in the daytime. Two fish hawks circling overhead: a good sign. Two crows perched on the top of the birth hut: a very bad sign.

Nasty tricksters the crows - thieves, travelers to the Underworld.

“I could kill you both,” the chief muttered, pitching a stone toward them, “but that might bring something worse.”

The birds stared back at him like exact copies, their heads tilted at exactly the same angle.

He considered calling one of his assistants to sit in his place while he went down to the shore to smell the sea and talk to the villagers. The trouble was they’d ask about his wife or they’d comment on some piece of the old village that washed up recently, and he had nothing useful to say about either. Hunkered down, his back wedged against a tree, he pounded a stick against a rock near his feet, wearing it down blow by blow until something crashed against the hut wall, making him look up. A midwife ducked out through the opening and tied the cover back, releasing a puff of smoke.

“Chief,” the woman coughed, “the baby won’t come out.”

“Well, give Lim something to help her.”

“We have.”

“Then give her something else! You must know what to do.”

The woman pursed her lips and looked out toward the sea before she nodded and headed back to the hut, untying the covering and letting it fall back into place behind her.

The chief set the battered stick aside, squinted at the hawks circling near the sun, then closed his eyes. My parents would have known what to do. They would have taught me how to be a father and sung the long song for the newly alive. But they’re gone, the old village is gone; the whole world has fallen out of balance. Now the people turn to me to rekindle their hopes, and I don’t know how.

When he looked around again, most of the things he saw around him seemed unremarkable, certainly not special enough to be the determining sign. The sun moved along its usual course, already spreading its heat across the land. Down the hill, the sea rolled up onto the shore and pulled back again. Past the shore, though, something different caught his eye, out in the open water, beyond the drowned trees. A great silver blue fish flipped in and out of the wave tops then leapt straight out of the water, twisting high over the sea so the sunlight flashed along its back. For a moment it paused, suspended between the sun and the sea, before it plunged back into the water, still pulsing with light.

“A lightning fish,” he cried, scrambling to his feet. “A lightning fish!”

He watched the spot where it had disappeared, worried for a moment that he’d imagined the great fish. No, I saw it, right there. Why doubt the clearest sign ever given? The other signs don’t matter. The child is destined for greatness! He’ll leap beyond his world. He’ll be extraordinary. He’ll be the one people sing about in the new songs, the ones his children’s children will learn. He will make the difference.

The midwife ducked out through the opening again, holding aside the curtain. “Chief?”

“Yes? Do I have a son?”

The woman lowered her gaze. “Yes, it’s a boy. And your wife will recover, I’m sure.”

The chief didn’t notice the crows still perched on the roof of the birth hut, each watching him with one dark eye. With his head held high, he started toward the hut, already imagining people congratulating him on the birth of his son. When he was halfway there, Naia, his old servant, joined him, placing her thin fingers on his arm as if to hold him back for a moment. In front of them, the hut had gone silent, leaving the air oddly empty. He slowed his pace, about to tell Naia about the great leaping fish he’d seen, when his wife shrieked.

The chief flinched.

“I’ll go in with you,” Naia offered.

“Yes, good.” His knees went weak. Perhaps the child didn’t survive. Many didn’t. The vision of the lightning fish faded as he pushed aside the curtain, releasing a cloud of putrid smoke. Inside, he hardly recognized his wife as she lay collapsed on the birth mat, her body battered, her face twisted in rage as she pointed to the infant in the midwife’s arms.

The woman held out the bloody newborn, squirming and crying as his legs churned, and the chief fell back a step. The infant’s head was too large and deformed from the birth, his skull lopsided and lumpy, as if his features had been pushed to one side. His eyes were uneven, his cheeks too big, his chest not big enough to balance the strange head, the rest of his body much too small, with tiny arms and miniature hands, short legs and tiny feet.

“Say something!” the mother yelled at the chief. “Say something!”

A pale cold flooded him, rushing through his chest and down his limbs. This strange dwarf child wasn’t what he’d been promised. He’d seen the sign; it couldn’t have been clearer. He’d been cheated. Perhaps the crows had stolen his fine son, dragging him to the Underworld before he could live his glorious life, leaving this horrible thing instead. This bloody creature the midwife held out to him - what was he? Nothing. The terrible chill ran up to his scalp, down to his fingertips.

“He is nothing to me. Nothing,” the chief announced as he backed away. “He does not exist.”

“Come back!” Lim shrieked. “Come back here. Don’t leave me. Don’t you dare leave!”

Pausing, still holding back the entrance flap, he looked at his wife and the baby the midwife still held, wishing they both belonged to someone else’s world.

“This is a punishment for something you did while it was growing in your belly,” he spat as he threw back the door curtain. “I’m sure you know what it was.”

“No! Wait!”

When he didn’t return, Lim tried to grab the baby. “Give it to me! I’ll kill it right now! I’ll kill the monster!”

“I’ll take the child,” Naia announced, stepping between Lim and the terrified midwife, lifting the infant out of the woman’s arms and tucking him into the crook of her arm. “I’ll see that he’s taken care of.”

The midwives caught each other’s eye while Lim fell back on the birth mat, weeping and yelling. All of them knew what Naia meant: deformed babies were “taken care of” in various ways, either killed outright or simply abandoned for the forest to claim.

“It’ll be good to pull this hut down tomorrow,” one midwife commented, not caring whether the mother heard. “It carries bad luck.” They didn’t bother to save the baby’s umbilical cord. They knew there’d be no naming ceremony for this baby when he could sit up unaided, no splashing with seawater, no placing of the cord in a cupule in the rock where all the other village births had been recorded.

As she walked away, Naia stripped off long leaves to wrap around the infant, leaving his face free, and tucked him into the sling she wore across her chest. No one commented or stopped her as she made her way out of the village into the forest where ancient trees wove their branches against the sky, blocking out the sunlight. Only a few paths penetrated the area and only one led where Naia was going: the highest spot on the island, an opening in the cover where flat rocks formed a platform under the sky, a sacred place close to the spirits.

At the top, thinking the unmoving, silent infant had died on the way, Naia took him out of the sling, surprised to find him very much alive and looking right at her.

“You’re a strange one,” she murmured, cleaning him up with the ends of the leaves, “ugly little thing looking at me as if you know me. Things went very bad back there in the village because of you. A lot of people in pain. Though I don’t suppose the pain is your fault. It’s not as if you chose to be the way you are.”

The child’s gaze was so strong she could feel him watching her even when she looked away. “Maybe you were brought up from the Underworld. That’s what people would say, you know. They’d say the crows stole the other baby and left you in his place.” His uneven eyes never looked away, never blinked. “If your mother didn’t kill you, someone else would. That’s the truth.”

Out where the light of the old sun still warmed the flat rocks, she set him down carefully and sat back on her heels. The reddened sky seemed very close above her, arching just over her head. She knew she shouldn’t stay. She needed to get back while she could still find her way down the path. Besides, this place was dangerous. People sometimes felt the sky so close here that they slipped away into it, never to return except as shapes in the clouds.

“Don’t be an old fool,” she said as she pushed herself up. “You’ve been sitting here too long.”

“You’re right,” Naia answered herself. “It’s time to go home.”

Bending down, she tucked the long leaves around the infant, reached one hand under the misshapen head and the other under his back, and settled him back into the fold of her sling. Above her the flaming colors of the sky dome hid the world of the spirits, but she knew they could see down through holes in the clouds.

“I said I’d take care of him,” she said, looking up, “so I will.”


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