The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce
I loved Meredith Ann Pierce’s Darkangel Trilogy when I was a kid. Hoping for more awesomeness, I’ve read a few of her other works over the years. Each time, I’m unhappy to find out that she seems to have pulled a Shyamalan: she’s good at one specific thing, which made The Darkangel so special, but when she tries to do the same thing in other books it doesn’t work. Her literary career seems to have petered out in 2004.
The same applies to The Woman Who Loved Reindeer.
A girl named Caribou is orphaned in her teens and the villagers refuse to take her in because she’s a seer and they’re a little afraid of her. She gets by living alone outside of town. One day Caribou’s sister-in-law Branja shows up. Branja has been charmed and impregnated by a trangl, a kind of were-deer in his human form. Branja managed to hide the pregnancy from her husband over a long hunting trip, but now she needs to get rid of the baby. Caribou reluctantly takes the baby in and names him Reindeer.
Part of what follows is a really cool adventure story. Volcanoes are taking over Caribou and Reindeer’s homeland, so Caribou uses her witch-powers and Reindeer uses his were-deer-powers to lead their people to safety. Lots of explodiness and epic crossing country scenes. There’s also a romance plot that I don’t like. It’s between Caribou and Reindeer.
Here are just a few of the problems I have with that:
- Caribou is legally Reindeer’s aunt,
- She raised him like a son, including breastfeeding him,
- She’s twenty-eight years old and he is fifteen when they start having sex,
- Caribou ate Reindeer’s father. (She thought he was an ordinary deer at the time, but still, she eventually figures it out.)
There’s also no earthly explanation why they love each other that way. Shared interests? Tender moments? Not really, Caribou just panics whenever she thinks Reindeer is going to leave her.
But gosh, the world Pierce has created is so cool. Caribou belongs to a hunting and farming community who live on a volcanically active polar continent. It’s got two fertile regions separated from each other by the pole itself, which is partially underwater. The book contains beautiful descriptions of the terrain and the adaptations of the people’s culture and lifestyle. I wanted to see lots more of that, but unfortunately it’s not the focus of the book.
I think The Woman Who Loved Reindeer would have been improved if told as a regular mother and son story. Reindeer has to grow up and run with the reindeer herd and Caribou has to learn to let him go. It would also have been better if Pierce had not tried so hard to make this into a fairy tale, because it isn’t, it’s an adventure story.