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Deviations: Covenant at Aisling Press
What if you killed your gods to survive and then the gods fought back?
Volume 1 of the Deviations series. Available for free download from Elissa's website, Manybooks.net, and Smashwords.com.
TripStone hates to kill her gods but she must feed her people. An accomplished hunter in the Masari village of Crossroads, she is charged with the ritual slaying of the sacred Yata.
Her comrade Ghost tries to end Masari dependence on Yata meat by performing experiments punishable by death. His jeopardy increases when he shelters a teenage runaway sickened by fasting.
Their worldview shatters when they harbor a Yata woman raised to be livestock instead of a god. But Crossroads itself is imperiled. Hidden in the far woods, a secret Yata militia is preparing to alter the balance of power.
TripStone closed her eyes and squatted by a rotting log beneath a canopy teeming with noisy nests. The young calling for food above her melded into a single, insistent voice, a command from the forest itself.
She thought of home, remembered why she was here.
Today was Meat Day and her family table was bare of flesh. It was her turn to dress in heavy canvas and leggings and shoulder her rifle.
She opened her eyes, bent her body to follow the outlines of the dead trunk, and barely breathed. Blued mountains ringed the Basc-Crossroads hunting grounds, but her gaze was elsewhere, closer to the ground, seeking sustenance.
Light from the rising sun glinted off red hair drawn back in her tightly fixed ritual kerchief woven with ancient Masari and Yata pictograms. TripStone's pelt, grown in the manner of young Masari women, trailed neatly in sideburns to her chin, rounding her mouth in graceful scimitar shapes. It blanketed her neck, warming it in the cold, woody air. Her shoulders, dusted under her vest in red fuzz, ached with waiting.
Before dawn she had drawn her purification bath in silence. She had laved herself slowly in water laced with fragrant herbs. Heady, floral scent rose in waves of steam from her tub, obscuring the odors of spiced grains and juice drifting in from the breakfast shared by her parents and brother in the next room. TripStone's dining chair, removed from the table, sat empty beside her family's shrine of ancestral keepsakes.
On any other day her mouth would have watered. If it had today, she told no one.
She dressed alone. She lifted her rifle off iron hooks hammered into dark-grained wood. Conversation in the next room became a steady buzz as she polished and inspected her barrel and firing mechanism until satisfied. Like her kerchief, her gun bore both Masari and Yata markings too old for her to understand. The ancient Masari looked more like bird tracks, the Yata like lizard trails. One was angular and succinct, the other a graceful meandering.
Pretty, both of them.
When she was ready, TripStone slung her rifle across her back. Her boot heels thudded on polished wood as she stepped into the family den. Her relatives ceased their talk and stood, then bowed as one in reverent silence. TripStone bowed back, turned, and strode from their cottage, swallowing hard.
She joined other hunters gathered at the edge of Crossroads. Some still conversed beneath tent flaps with census takers who waited to count the dead. Others, like her, gazed sadly toward the hunting grounds. In Basc, on the other side of the woods, scores of diminutive Yata prepared themselves for sacrifice. TripStone tried to imagine their secret rites, if they held any at all. Perhaps they simply bent to kiss those whom they loved and turned away from their huts, leaving their fate to the gods.
The sun beat down. TripStone's eyes grazed the yellow grass around pasty flounces of mushroom. She prayed for eye contact. She prayed that she be recognized before she killed. She did not question, sure that the gods would send her a good catch. In time.
Woody decay wafted up to her nostrils. She listened to termites munching the fallen trunk, a beetle scrabbling in the crevices. Seen from the corner of her eye, it raced across brittle bark and vanished. Leaves fluttered as the breeze picked up, sounding like a gentle rain. Her nostrils flared, her lips drawn back as scent reached her, and with it her familiar dilemma of whether to laugh or weep.
Lady Emily, Redbud Book Club
Deviations: Covenant is the first of six in a series being published by Aisling Press. Rich character development and fascinating central conflict quickly addict the reader to this story. The author’s tone subtly coaxed me to judge the ethics of the situation comprehensively by virtue of the characters’ widely varied viewpoints. The moral dilemma of the story would easily lend itself to pontification from a less skilled writer.
The plot is too surprising and “juicy” for me to reveal too much, but I will warn that it does have a creepiness to it, ala modern vampire novels. Do set aside time to read the story straight through, as once taken up the book is hard to put down. I found that as the final pages approached I was craving a bit more “meat” to the story, but fortunately the second book in the series is due out in September.
The main character, TripStone, is a hunter for her Masari tribe. She must perform sacred rituals with each kill. Her tribe must kill their gods to survive. Many of the neighboring Yata tribe have mixed feelings about their relationship with the Masari, and hidden in their woods, their secret militia seeks to alter the balance of power. Meanwhile, in the hills above the Masari village of Crossroads, TripStone’s friend Ghost is performing illegal experiments, a teenage runaway is dealing with serious addiction, and a Yata woman is being harbored from an evil “flesh farm.”
Not your usual happy read on a sunny day, but the moral issues are so compelling, so thought-provoking, you’ll thank the author for presenting this perspective.
Rachel Baker, Old Musty Books
The Deviations series by Elissa Malcohn is interesting, to say the very least. When I first started reading Deviations: Covenant, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get through the book. On the surface, this series is bizarre. The first chapter describes a young woman with LOTS of facial and body hair, her preparation for the hunt, the ritualistic killing of another human (?) being for the meat needed to sustain her family. WHAT?!
The first half of Deviations: Covenant was one of the most vulgar reading experiences I’ve ever had. My stomach churned, my lip curled in disgust and I contemplated the “I’m sorry I can’t review this” email to the author.
But then things changed.
I began to be entrenched in the story and what it was REALLY about. This series is about social cannibalism. Specifically, its about one society using the resources of another to guarantee their continued existence. According to the author’s site:
The series focuses on the social, ethical, and spiritual dilemmas surrounding both the literal cannibalism of the societies involved and the many ways in which their different communities feed off each other.
Allow me to get really specific for a few seconds. The Masari eat the Yata, in exchange for their meat, the Masari consider the Yata gods, and provide them with the resources they need to survive. There is a covenant between the two societies which makes the killing of the Yata ritualistic and demands the killing only takes place on Meat Day. The preparation, the hunt and the post hunt is a beautiful spiritual process. The doomed Yata even gives his/her blessings before the Masari takes his/her life.
There are people in both societies who despise the Covenant. One group of people hate the idea of having a dependence on another culture that requires them to kill to survive, and one group hates the idea of being revered as gods, and killed so the other culture can continue to thrive. The inter-dependence between these cultures causes assention all around, but in all the years since the beginning of the Covenant, people have more or less accepted it. But then the whole idea of the Covenant somewhat shatters when some Masari take in a Yata woman in the woods who was raised as livestock instead of a god.
Deviations: Covenant is about an important discovery TripStone (Masari) has made and about Gria’s (Yata) final preparations for dissolving the Covenant. Deviations: Appetite is about the two groups joining forces to help make the Yata less dependent on the Masari for goods and the Masari less dependent on the Covenant for their survival, while making it a fair fight for the Yata. It is also the beginning of the destruction of Destiny Farm – the place that raises Yata like livestock and then turns around and sells the Yata to Masari when they don’t/can’t hunt – oh and sells better weapons ot the Yata. These books are an interesting study in social cannibalism and the effect it has on different societies – the cannibals, the victims and the factions exploiting both.
It turns out I really enjoyed Deviations: Covenant and Deviations: Appetite and have wondered all week how they will resolve in the third book which comes out in December. If you are looking for something different with a great story line, I would suggest reading these books. They are very well written and draw the reader into the story, possibly against their will. There are places in the books that were so beautifully written, I forgot the passage was describing the eating of another human being.
There is a rawness to these books that might make one uncomfortable while reading, but will push you towards completion. I couldn’t help asking myself what would our lives be like if we were dependant on another race’s flesh and blood for our survival? Would the killing be ritualistic? Would we deify the other race? Would I be able to kill another human to ensure the survival of my family? And I gotta tell ya – the answers were disturbing. Maybe NOW we don’t physically eat the meat of other people, but there sure has been a great deal of cannibalism in our history in one way or another. In some ways, I NEED to read the third book – I need to see that it turns out fine for both the Yata and the Masari and they can come to a peaceful resolution with the Covenant dissolved. I NEED to know humanity will be okay.
The author, Elissa Malcohn gives the books away in downloadable form for free. That’s right – she gives them away! If you go here , she explains why she is giving them away. She has also given me permission to post the downloadable links here. These books are free, the download is free and I recommend adding them to your book stack for something a little different. It probably goes without saying the content of these books are not really PG rated, so be prepared. Push past the initial reaction of “this is just disgusting” and try to remember there’s a bigger picture here. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
Here is the link for downloading Deviations: Covenant
Here is the link for downloading Deviations: Appetite
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