- Joseph Bruchac. Killer of Enemies
- Olivia A. Cole. Panther in the Hive
How I discovered these books
Bruchac’s book showed up in the Amazon suggestions and caught my eye with its painterly cover, which does everything right in terms of neither whitewashing nor sexualizing the teenaged badass who is the protagonist. Cole’s novel was recommended to me on Twitter; I saw multiple mentions of it and decided to follow up.
I read both stories multiple times, to see how the tale was set up in each case. Both are written in a spare, all-but-invisible storyteller’s voice that sucks you right into the story. Multiple rereads were necessary because on the first few tries I got engrossed in the story. The technique that proved most useful for plot analysis was overflight using the electronic table of contents and the ebook progress bar.
Why are they so awesome? Action and adventure await!
Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac
Lozen is a teenage superhero who’s taken on a gig as a monster-killer for the evil overlords of a survivalist compound, while plotting to free her family who are being held hostage. Set in Apache country, this story is deeply rooted in landscape and traditional lore. Or as I put it when (as now) I’m seriously selling you this book: Post-apocalyptic Apache steampunk! With MONSTERS! And the sweetest young ROMANCE you’ll ever read! And a BIBLIOGRAPHY so you can read more about Apache history and culture! Also, if you are a word monkey of any description, you seriously need to read everything Joseph Bruchac has written, because he is a master storyteller with millennia of tales behind him, and you will learn things about the telling of Thrilling Tales. Ignore the label that says ‘for kids.’
If you are interested in awesome books to read yourself or give to the young readers in your immediate circle, check out the Lee & Low website. They are doing what publishers are supposed to do: collecting awesome books by equally awesome authors, so that when you finish one, you know where to go for your next story fix.
I discovered this novel because of its awesome cover design, and stayed for the compelling story. It also introduced me to an elder in the craft of storytelling. Family and community drive this tale, with sharp contrast of Lozen’s relationship to her mother and siblings, as against the predatory survivalists who run the compound in which they are held hostage.
Panther in the Hive by Olivia A. Cole
Call this one the Zombie Apocalypse of the One Percent, with the rest of us left to fend for ourselves against mindless killers in upscale duds. This story opens in Chicago a few days after things have gone to hell, with protagonist Tasha figuring out the landscape, learning survival skills on the fly, and chasing a long-shot chance that takes her on a perilous quest on foot from the North Side to the South Side. I lived in Chicago and have walked parts of the route in the story, but never with zombies chasing me.
This novel is the first of a projected series, with an epic cross-country journey that begins just as the story closes. Tasha’s arc in the story begins in isolation, in conversation with a neighbor trapped with her zombified boyfriend, and opens out as she traverses the hostile landscape of the post-apocalypse. For a twist, the South Side of Chicago, much maligned in the news, is a safe zone in which neighbors watch out for each other. Zombie-whacking is an important part of community responsibilities.
My detailed review on Amazon (“Not Your Daddy’s Zombie Apocalypse”)
Tradition and updating
Joseph Bruchac’s novel features monsters borrowed from Apache mythology, recreated by power-mad, super-rich rulers who think they are like gods. Olivia A. Cole borrows the zombie, original flavor (mindless slave) and does a neat twist with the class role. The zombies in Panther in the Hive are driven by an implanted chip that was only available to upper-class people. Both novels use traditional sources to explore contemporary social disparities. Both Lozen and Tasha step away from the “lone-wolf superhero” archetype, acting for and with their communities and families.
That’s also a step back to original sources; epic heroes (e.g. Beowulf) took on dangers for the sake of community survival.
What these novels did for my own work
More confirmation that kinship ties are some of the most interesting relationships around, whether it’s parent-child, sibling-sibling, or family of affinity.
Bruchac and Cole are both masters at sketching foreground in a few short strokes. Some of the most masterful use of flashback-you-don’t-even-notice that I’ve seen recently.