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Children of the Dawnland

by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael O’Neal Gear


Children of the Dawnland takes place 12,900 years ago when glaciers covering most of what is now North America and Canada started to melt at a rapid speed. As this happened, floods threatened the way of life of the tribes living at the edge of the glaciers.

Twig, a twelve year old girl, lives with her mother, the village dreamer, in one of the small settlements south of the Ice Giants. The elders know the ice is melting and are considering moving the tribe south. But the melting ice is not Twig’s main concern. For several moons now, she has dreamed of a blinding ball of fire burning in the sky and of winds bringing ash and devastation to the land.

She is not the only one. Nightcrow, a powerful dreamer from an enemy tribe, has also had the dream, and knows that in the aftermath of so much destruction the struggle for survival will drive tribe against tribe. To help his people in this future he has dreamed, he sends his warriors to kill their 'would be' enemies, and to gain their power, he commands them to steal magic objects from the other tribes.

As Nightcrow’s warriors close on Twig’s village and her dreams intensify, Twig must convince her mother to let her train with Screech Owl, the outcast previous dreamer, and travel to the Land of the Dead to meet her Spirit Helper and learn the future, so she can help her tribe to survive.

Knowing the authors are archeologists, I expected this book to be a realistic story about this period. But although the parts where they describe the daily life and the importance of the oral traditions as the only way of passing knowledge ring true to the times, Children of the Dawnland is more fantasy than historical fiction.

The story is engaging enough and I found myself invested in the fate of the protagonists, but the book could be tightened and the dialogue is jarring at times, anachronistic at others. "Do you need to rest?" one character asks at one point. "No (...). But thank you for asking," the other answers. Would people from the Stone Age really talk this way?

Another detail that doesn't work for me is the insertion of Twig’s dreams in first person in the body of a third person narrative.

Names can be distracting too. Humans are called Blue Dog, Black Star, and Copper Falcon and I am all right with that. But to remember that Screech Owl is a human while Old Mother is a bird, Wind Woman is the wind and Eagle Man a Spirit Helper, sometimes kept my mind too busy to thoroughly enjoy the story.

Children of the Dawnland is aimed at 9-12 years old and although I agree with this rating, I found some of the description of people dying too gruesome for this age group.

The Book

Starscape / A Tom Doherty Associated Book
July 7, 2009
Hardcover. Reviewed as ARC
0-7653-2019-3 / 978-0-7653-2019-3
Tweener Fantasy, Historical Fiction / (12,900 years ago, present North American continent)
More at
NOTE: Explicit violence

The Reviewer

Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban
Reviewed 2009
NOTE: Reviewer Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban is author of the award-winning YA fantasy novel Two Moon Princess [2007], recipient of the ForeWord Magazine Bronze Award for Juvenile Fiction. Its sequel, The King in the Stone, is scheduled to be published in 2010.
© 2009