Trafford Publishing: Victoria, British Columbia
The Raven’s Pool was recommended to me, via e-mail, from a reader of this monthly review series (Yes, there are real, live readers out there!), and I must say at the outset that I owe this anonymous individual a hearty “thank you!”
This novel is simply wonderful in so many ways. Author Cannon is an archaeologist born in British Columbia and now living with her archaeologist husband in Ontario. Her knowledge of and love for the cultures of the Northwest Coast Native Americans is demonstrated over and over within the pages of this mystery/thriller/romance/ethnography. Yes, it is all of these in a brief 235 pages.
Archaeologist Jake Lalonde, orphaned as an infant, and straddling the two worlds of the white man and the Haida culture, is directing an excavation of shell middens on Cedar Island, one of the San Juan Islands off the coast of northwest Washington State. The dig was but an economic necessity for Jake, as he pursued his true passion: the investigation of shamanism and ritual and in particular, the derivation of the Raven myth so prevalent in much of Northwest Native American myth and legend. The discovery of a raven rattle by one of the local inhabitants gives Jake the impetus he needs to legitimize his quest.
Jake and his crew, which seem to be largely made up of Jake’s former, present and hoped-for lovers, are confronted by P. Clifford Radisson, a high rolling entrepreneur and land developer who sets out methodically to win over Jake’s crew and the local residents to his dream of building an archaeology theme park, complete with rides, concessions, hotels, and restaurants—an undertaking, he says, will honor the heritage of the various cultures of the Northwest Coast, as well as providing much-needed employment for the local population. Jake finds the prospect to be an abomination and fights the power and clout of Radisson Enterprises with all the skill and passion he can muster, but it seems to be a futile effort. He is almost literally and figuratively crushed by Radisson, especially when Radisson appears to have won the heart and soul of Jake’s lover, the beautiful Angeline Lisbon.
The struggle between Jake and Radisson takes on almost epic proportions as both begin to realize that they are alike in that Radisson’s obsession is to develop Cedar Island and to sexually conquer Angeline, and Jake’s obsession is to prove that the Raven myth was based on a real human being living some 10,000 years earlier to keep Angeline from surrendering her body and soul to the millionaire developer.
Deborah Cannon has created real characters who achieve, in many ways, mythic personas as they struggle for what they want; she lovingly paints word pictures of the beautiful San Juan Islands; and with great respect she invites us to not only learn much of the lore and legend of the ancient cultures of this part of the world, but to share in the world of contemporary Native Americans of the Northwest Coast, including a wedding potlatch ceremony that brings together the apparently dissonant worlds of native peoples, archaeologists and developers. She also skillfully describes the work of real archaeologists doing real archaeology.
As Jake struggles to win Angeline’s love, to save the island from what he sees as a theme park hell, and to prove his Raven myth theory, we find that in a real sense Jake is struggling to find himself, his identity and the family that had abandoned him so long ago.
Deborah Cannon is written a sequel, entitled White Raven, and I intend to read it as soon as possible. In the meantime, four trowels for The Raven’s Pool.