BORN IN A TREACHEROUS TIME

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Murray (Twenty-Four Days, 2017, etc.) imagines the life of an early hominid, later famously nicknamed “Lucy” by archaeologists, in this adventure novel.

In prehistoric times, a female member of the species Man-who-makes-tools, called “Lucy” in the text, is so traumatized by the sudden deaths of the males in her group—including her “pairmate,” called “Garv”—that she allows herself to be kidnapped by members of another group. As they trek across the dangerous African savanna and rift valley, Lucy’s captor, Raza, tells her she’s been taken because of “deaths without reason,” a phrase that makes no sense to her. Arriving at Raza’s home, she learns two disturbing things: First, the women and children of the group have been carried off by a new kind of predator, a fellow hominid that they call Man-who-preys; second, the mother figure of Raza’s group, the wise and mystical Sahn, had requested that he go forth and capture Lucy, specifically. Sahn believes that Lucy holds the key to both helping to repopulate the group and figuring out a way to keep the Man-who-preys away. Lucy, with her superior knowledge of herbs and hunting, flouts traditional gender roles and provides food for the others. When it comes to confronting Man-who-preys, however, Lucy may need to learn something new. Murray’s lean prose is steeped in the characters’ brutal worldview, which lends a delightful otherness to the narration: “By this time, Lucy felt numb, as much from the death of her Group as the loss of Garv. Garv, her forever pairmate, was as much a part of her as the lush forests, Sun’s warmth, and Snarling-dog’s guidance.” The book’s plot is similar in key ways to other works in the genre, particularly Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear.However, Murray weaves a taut, compelling narrative, building her story on timeless human concerns of survival, acceptance, and fear of the unknown. Even if readers have a general sense of where the plot is going, they’ll still find the specific twists and revelations to be highly entertaining throughout.

A well-executed tale of early man.

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