By: Raymond Scott Edge
Publisher: Redoubt Books
Publication Date: November 2009
Reviewed by: Bill Alberts
Review Date: January 13, 2010
Snow Pine is mourning the loss of her beloved husband Sun Kai. As the story, Witches of Cahokia opens, Snow Pine is building a wall in the cave where her husband’s body rests, in the hope of hiding his remains from the outside world. Deeply in love with Sun Kai, Snow Pine is devastated. But her young son needs her so she decides to return to the “Village of the Trading People,” where Beaver Lodge, her new husband, awaits her return.
Just as the reader starts to settle into the narrative of Snow Pine, the book fast forwards to present day Illinois, where Daniel French, along with his wife Lauren, teach archeology at Southern Illinois University. When a construction project discovers some Indian artifacts, Daniel and Lauren are called in to investigate and hopefully give the okay so that construction may continue. While Lauren examines the artifacts, Daniel takes their children for a walk and soon their young daughter Cassie finds a skeleton. Work is immediately halted and Daniel, Lauren, and a team from SIU begin setting up a dig site.
Witches of Cahokia is really two distinct stories wrapped up snuggly in one book. The life of Snow Pine and her descendants offers a fascinating look at early Native American culture. But pay close attention…Snow Pine talks about the far away land of Chin’in, and uses herbs/cures from Chin’in, while Snow Pine’s features hint at a Mediterranean heritage. The peaceful people of the trading village are not sure what to make of Snow Pine. Is she a witch? Many villagers fear her but when they see how she cures the sick, fear is quickly replaced by trust.
When the Osage, a neighboring tribe attacks, the trading village retaliates. Soon there is a barrage of retaliatory attacks. Tired of the killing, Snow Pine organizes the 'Daughters of White Buffalo Calf Woman,' also known as the “Sisterhood.” This group is made up of women from both tribes, all of whom are committed to peace. At the same time, Snow Pine passes on the tradition of ‘she who remembers’ to her daughter. One day the far away people will return and one woman must be ready to welcome the travelers. The reader follows the group through many generations with all of their trials and triumphs.
Meanwhile, the group at SIU continues researching the dig site. When artifacts from the school’s collection go missing, and an artifact is found at the dig site that doesn’t seem to fit, several faculty wonder if a local chapter of CAS (Creative Artifacts Society) might be involved. The CAS steal and plant artifacts all over the world to lead researchers astray in the hopes of stopping “materialistic progress.”
The Witches of Cahokia effectively switches between each story, keeping the reader guessing. The reader will be rooting for Daniel and Lauren, hoping they discover the meaning behind the mass burials, why there are so many female skeletons buried neatly in several rows, and just what happened so many centuries ago. The catch is, the reader is learning along with the archeologists, guessing at each clue because the story of Snow Pine and her descendants is given in snippets between chapters detailing the 21st century dig. You’ll need to stay tuned right to the very end to discover the truth (and also to see what happens to those sneaky CAS people).
A unique twist to this novel is that the author wraps his fictionalized story around real archeological finds. Collinsville, IL is home to the Cahokia Mounds, a place that figures prominently in the story. Other regional lore, such as the Flight of the Piasa legend, are blended into the story to create a realistic account of archeology, making this not just a fun story, but one that adds realism to the mystery.
Quill says: Learn a little about archeology while unwrapping the mysterious story of Snow Pine and her descendants.
For more information on Witches of Cahokia, please visit the publisher's website at Redoubt Books.