Kirkus Review of The Mantle
This novel sees a secluded tribe thrive on forgiveness and a dedication to building emotional bridges.
A meteor struck a valley long ago, creating the crater called Elgiba. The Mahari tribe has made a pilgrimage there for a celebration of the planting season. It has also been seven generations since Hu Mani, or the Great Ruin involving war and environmental despoliation. Heglen is the tribe’s cóntagé, which combines priest, historian, and storyteller. He and his wife, Gerda, have a young son named Matego. Sons are precious to the Mahari, for not even King Josef and Queen Hashti have one yet as heir to the throne. A certain tribesman adopted from the warlike Shimani people, the Principal Hunter known as Stebin, knows this and hopes to corrupt the peaceful Mahari. He lures Matego away from his family during the festival, but fails to kidnap him. Later, tragedy befalls the tribe and Stebin takes to the wilds to recruit warriors for his long-simmering revenge scheme. Despite this danger, King Josef travels to the Word Tree, an ancient oak that’s inscribed with Mahari lineage and wisdom. Will he return hale, hearty, and filled with knowledge to help guide his people, including his latest child, yet to be born? In this generations-spanning saga, Underwood (Growing Lavender and Other Poems, 2007, etc.) illuminates a society stripped down to the essentials of relationships, art, learning, and faith. Stebin’s sly villainy mirrors that of a real-world sociopath, as he frequently subverts the Mahari rule that requires three witnesses to convict someone before the Council. He will never understand that “for every reason to hate, there is a higher reason to love.” Narrative tension rises when Queen Hashti gives birth to Prince Rahabem, who knows only love and is deeply vulnerable. The author also generates mystery with the notion of the Other Side, which harbors great truths for the Mahari. When the tribe’s essence is threatened, the means to carry on comes from the least expected source. Colorful images by debut illustrator Harlukowicz beautify the text.
An engaging and instructive adventure that emphasizes humans’ collective ability to rise above life’s challenges.