"When you've explored past the last island - what awaits?"
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
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
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
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.
The South Pacific Islands, 14,000 years ago – crossroads
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
On the great open sea, they enter a world still ruled by
place of wonders where beauty and danger live side by
their life to the journey.
ExcerptChapter 1 – The Chief’s Son
Signs. I can’t see any signs. I don’t even know what to
“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
“I could kill you both,” the chief muttered, pitching a
stone toward them, “but that might bring something
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.”
“Then give her something else! You must know what to
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
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
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
“Say something!” the mother yelled at the chief. “Say
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
“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.”
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
“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
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
“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
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
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