• The Good: Native American fantasy horror
  • The Bad: Over-the-top violence and gore; single-minded villain
  • The Literary: POV shifts; story-within-a-story; allegorical horror

Four young Blackfeet men, Lewis, Ricky, Gabriel, and Cassidy, break the rules and hunt on land reserved for tribal elders. They chance upon an entire herd of elk and unload their guns at them. Nine elk die, including a pregnant one that has to be shot multiple times, her calf still alive in her belly. After they are caught by the cops, all the meat is thrown away. Ten years later, a vision of a woman holding an elk’s head haunts Lewis.

Primarily a horror novel, this is significantly more disturbing than the fiction normally read, so much so that, with my active imagination, I made sure to only read it during daylight hours. I enjoy psychological horror, despite being a scaredy-cat, so the first part of the novel is my favorite. Lewis begins to hallucinate and draw all sorts of crazy conclusions, and as a reader you’re not sure how much the bad medicine is just in his head. I love the atmospheric fear that creeps in around the edges of a room or only shows itself through revolving fan blades. In addition to the subtle insanity, there is also violence and gore, occasionally cathartic, but mostly not. For example, there are a lot dead dogs in this book. Murdered dogs, their bodies described in detail. It’s tough to read, and in my opinion not necessary.

What really works is the characters and the setting. The focus on the characters’ flaws is sharp but garners sympathy, and there is an intimacy to their lives and the relationships between the old friends. I particularly relate to Lewis, who narrates his own life in headlines and reads long fantasy series, including one in which a fairy realm is connected to ours by a fountain in a mall. The POV does some interesting things as well, as it switches when revealing the narrative for each protagonist.

I love that just about everyone is Native American, Blackfoot or Crow. The characters and their relationship to their tribe feels modern, with references to sports, drinking, and marrying white. The reservation is a place to leave, and even though Gabriel and Cassidy hated the traditions of their childhood, they host a sweat lodge in a makeshift tent.

The horrors they experience are because they failed to follow tradition and hunted on elder land. You might say they brought it on themselves. But the path they walk to find their identity and the guilt they face is an allegory for living between two worlds, trying and failing to escape the rez, staying and failing to measure up against their elders.

Highly recommended for horror fans who are interested in native (not Indian) culture.

“One little, two little, three little natives…”