Monday, February 05, 2007
Stormwitch by Susan Vaught. Library copy. 2004.
The Plot: Ruba has been raised by her maternal grandmother, Ba, in Haiti; but Ba has died so Ruba now moves to Pass Christian, Mississippi, to live with her paternal grandmother, Grandmother Jones. It's August 1969, and Ba raised Ruba to be proud of her African heritage, to be strong, to be a fighter. Ruba has a hard time adjusting to the segregation and prejudice in Mississippi, and a harder time adjusting to life with her grandmother. She sees none of the pride found in Ba; and Grandmother Jones, a devout Christian, frowns on the spells, potions and magic taught to Ruba by Ba.
The Good: Holy Hannah, it's not just tradition -- Ba and Ruba really are witches! Or war women or storm chanters or whatever you want to call them. Basically, the spells and chants and potions work; they are part of the wisdom and tradition of the Dahomey Amazon women. And they are real.
Which means that this changes from a book about a teen adjusting to life in a racist world to a book about a teen who can kick some racist ass.
Ruba's particular blend of magic is tied to weather -- and her enemy is the stormwitch who controls the hurricanes. The stormwitch is coming, turning regular hurricanes into killing monsters, and it's up to Ruba to stop this from happening. But first she has to battle racism and her disapproving grandmother. And then she is left to wonder: is she strong enough? Old enough? Before she always had Ba; now she does not.
Grandmother Jones is a remarkable character; at the beginning, we see her as Ruba sees her, but as Ruba's knowledge of the older woman grows, so, too, does our understanding, so we see someone who is strong and proud, just in different ways than Ba and Ruba. In the moment when Ruba understands that, she actually sees Grandmother in a different way: "Grandmother Jones's rockface makes sense to me now. It's not hatred or lack of feeling, anger, or even distress. My Grandmother wears the stern expression of a warrior, simple as that." The women in this book celebrate tradition, strength, and wisdom.
The book is set in 1969; which works not only because of the civil rights struggle, but also because the real Hurricane Camille is the storm witch that Ruba battles. It's hard to read this book and not think about Hurricane Katrina.
Finally, it is great to read a fantasy that has an African American protagonist. Ruba's struggles are real, her power is awesome, and you root for her every step of the way.
Links: Stormwitch Has African Roots from Sci Fi Wire.
Info at the author's website.
Winner of the Carl Brandon Kindred Award.
Wands and Worlds Review.
Nose Stuck In A Book review (seventh one down).
The Endicott Studio for Mythic Arts review.
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