Meshkwadoon: Book 1

Alex Tilley has crafted a world where people in the melting pot of Ontario, Canada, come face to face with the spirits of the lands they call home. Blending beliefs and personalities from India and Japan with the indigenous Anishinabek traditions and mythologies forges a new map to follow through these forests and small towns. Meshkwadoon translates as a bargain, trading or exchange. As the novel unfolds, readers discover many other words found in Ojibwe, and some Japanese and Hindi peppered in. Within the context of the story, many terms get defined while reading, and using other languages helps the reader step into the unknown a little less sure-footed, but with a sense of wonder.

The story opens with the dreamy Natasha, who we soon find out appears to be having delusions or hallucinations in the forest, if not visitations from powerful old spirits. Begging for help or direction home, she is told in few and broken words that they don’t want her to leave. Her hazelnut eyes drink in the trees and waterways as she tries to escape. Seasons seem to flash forward as we discover all is not what it seems in the woods.

We follow mild-mannered teacher Arjun on a class trip into Algonquin park from Huntsville Ontario when his hiking group finds Natasha covered in mud, nude, and unable to explain where she had come from, or otherwise who she is. One student, Yutta, assists Arjun with the exhausted and injured girl and soon becomes inexplicably enraptured with her.

After handing the strange girl over to the authorities, Arjun, the teacher, is visited by a mysterious reporter named Chloe who is digging for clues about what may have happened to Yutta’s grandparents. Arjun, certain the strange girl and his student’s tragedy must be connected, goes to the hospital and visit the enigmatic Natasha. Much like Yutta, he can’t get her out of his mind and proves oddly compelled to seek her out. Natasha, now missing from the hospital, has this unlikely duo– man and boy– seeking her out. Visions, apparitions, spirits, and tricksters fade in and out as the men travel together, then separately, unraveling as best they can what happened to Natasha before they found her and uncovering clues to the journey she is on now. Many of the people they meet sometimes help or otherwise hinder their quest to find the striking girl who seems to call from them through miles of the surrounding forest.

Chloe’s father, Ogi, is a medicine-man of sorts and has some answers and guidance but warns them all is not what it seems in terms of the meshkwadoon between Natasha and the earth. Peppered with moments of nightmarish visions, and the terror of being alone in the forest, the book has only a few main characters but many short scenes with unnamed apparitions, spirits, and strangers they meet along the way, perhaps many guises of the trickster spirit Nanabush or the greater spirits of the earth itself. From modern hospitals to the most ancient groves, the story paints a picture of Ontario that is recognizable when Arjun and Yutta are interacting with the familiar, yet a murky mystical world lurks under all of this as they take guidance from the various monsters, guides, and spirits.

Some of these characters may be familiar to readers of fantasy or folklore, and certainly to those who are acquainted with indigenous legends. From the stoic brother bear that lends Arjun clarity and wisdom to the mischievous Puk-wudgie, a tiny woodland troll-creature that accompanies Yutta; there are extremes of delightful whimsy and cold reckoning worked into each chapter as they encounter clues to Natasha’s true nature. The very human elements of exhaustion, pain, nudity, confusion, and dread weave through the story, making this sit very close to the realm of horror without being overly graphic. This is despite the beautiful descriptions of the landscapes these creatures and our cast travel through. The woods are dense between the towns and cities we discover, Huntsville to Sudbury, and it soon becomes clear people can be very close to one another, yet be lost and alone at the same time.

Meshkwadoon spans the genres of dark fantasy, thriller, horror, and magic realism, creating a complex storyline with many twists. Readers will find themselves on a journey questioning what is real as they follow the characters through this chilling novel.

Pages: 242 | ASIN : B09PBKYBBP

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Posted on March 18, 2022, in Book Reviews, Five Stars and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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