Kingston (Ontario) area author Rick Revelle has authored two books now in his Algonquin Quest series, I am Algonquin (2013, Dundurn Press) and Algonquin Spring (2015, Dundurn Press). While they are in the Young Adult (YA) genre, they are very mature in tone, and I was totally engrossed in them. In fact, by the middle of Book One, I was greatly anticipating Book Two which I had waiting on the shelf. I don’t recall ever reading such exciting Aboriginal action scenes since The Last of the Mohicans, which says a lot since James Fenimore Cooper is one of my favourite authors.
I am Algonquin
It is the fourteenth century in what is now Ontario and we are introduced to Mahingan, an Algonquin warrior living the traditional Algonquin way of life. The author himself is a member of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and he has rigorously researched the way First Nations lived and fought in those pre-contact times. In fact, in a recent interview with the author, The Kingston Whig Standard stated: “He [the author] figures that, for every chapter, he spent five hours poring through archives or talking with experts about the minutiae of life back in the 1300s, when the books are set.” Indeed, as you read the books, there is a very realistic feel to the scenes and a sense of just how Aboriginal people lived so close to the land, dealt with seasonal changes as well as ever-present danger to their existence as a nation.The warrior Mahingan states in Book One: “We were constantly struggling to have enough to eat and always battling the elements to stay warm or dry. Add the constant threat of our enemies and it was a life of never-ending vigilance.”
That pretty much sets the tone for the book. The Algonquin have winter and summer camps they need to move between. The Algonquins are semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, unlike their friends the Hurons who grow the Three Sisters (corn, beans and squash) and live in a permanent encampment. Their search for food sometimes takes them into enemy (Iroquois) territory so they are constantly on the lookout. There are lighter moments, however, such as a lacrosse game between the Nippissing and the Algonquins as well as a cross-country footrace that leads to a peace pact between the Algonquins and Nippissing (whose enemy are also the Iroquois). A great forest fire leads to the necessary evacuation of Mahingan’s people to a small island. Here they appear defenceless to the Iroquois and this leads to the climactic battle resulting in the events that carry over into Algonquin Spring.
Book Two takes place six years after the events that occurred at the end of Book One. If I thought I am Algonquin was good, Algonquin Spring was twice as good from the action and adventure perspective. While all our Algonquin friends are back in this book, the focus is not so much on Mahingan and his people as it is on expanding the book’s scope to other First Nations people living to the east of present-day Ontario. As such, the Innu (Quebec-Labrador area), Maliseet (or Malicite, St.John River valley) and Mi’kmaq (Atlantic provinces, Gaspe Peninsula) and Beothuk (Newfoundland) all make an appearance. Even the Vikings show up to get the action rolling in chapter one. It is truly ingenious how Mr Revelle gets all these diverse groups to converge towards the climax when these allies of the Algonquins meet up with their enemy, the Iroquois, who have teamed up with their allies, the Stadaconas and the Hochelagans.
I have deliberately refrained from telling too much about the main characters and the story lines as I don’t want to create any ‘spoilers’ for the reader and ruin the sheer fun of reading these books. I mentioned The Last of the Mohicans in the introduction, but these novels also remind me of the straightforward storytelling of C.S. Forester’s Hornblower saga mixed with the historical accuracy of Patrick O’Brian’s Captain Aubrey novels. You will definitely learn a lot about Aboriginal life from reading the Algonquin Quest novels. Everything from making traditional medicine, to how they made their weapons, how they conducted warfare to how they used every part of an animal they killed. Some may find the details of their lifestyle a little too graphic, but they are included for veracity, not mere shock value.
These two books will be enjoyed by a YA reader as well as those of us who enjoy a well-told story with plenty of adventure and fast-paced action. I highly recommend these novels, and you can get both bundled (as Kindle eBooks) from Amazon.ca for a great price. Print editions are also available.
I am Algonquin