The Days of the Deer by Liliana Bodoc

Welcome to the first post in a new seasonal theme — Speculative Fiction in TranslationThe Days of the Deer by Lilana Bodoc is translated from Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lucia Caistor Arendar.

daysofthedeerThe Magic of the Open Air has learnt beyond a shadow of doubt that there will soon be a fleet from the Ancient Lands coming to our continent. All out predictions and sacred books clearly say the same thing. The rest is all shadows. Shadows in the stars and our books. Shadows that prevent us from seeing the faces of those who are coming. Who are they? Why are they travelling here? The answers to these questions will decide the fate of everyone living in the fertile lands.

For centuries, the Husihuilke people have lived in the forest at the Ends of the Earth. Taciturn and warlike, they have had barely any contact with the other peoples of the Fertile lands as they are self-sufficient and live at one with nature. However, all this is about to change — visitors are coming, from over the sea. Are they the Northmen who came before, 500 years ago? Or will it be the Northmen’s greatest enemy, the son of Death herself? To decide how to face the intruders, the Astronomers call one representative from each people to a council, where these matters will be debated, and Dulkancellin is the Husihuilke delegate. He must travel hundreds of miles to the city of Beleram, to discuss how best to protect the Fertile Lands.

But every day spent in discussion is wasting valuable time, and why does it appear that evil has already arrived? As the deliberations continue, it becomes apparent that not every delegation can be trusted.

The prose is written like that of a fable, with sparse, detached language and a slow pace. At the beginning it feels calm and safe, but as the tension builds, and the unease grows, this style becomes more and more potent. This combines with the lush descriptions of the landscapes, the wildlife and the weather to give a tremendous sense of place, which is just as well, because ecology and looking after the environment are major themes of the story. Unfortunately, the element that loses out here is character — the characters are a little too much like stock fable personalities selected to fill a stereotype, rather than well-rounded people.

Despite the opening sentence of the book: “It all took place so many Ages ago that not even the echo of a memory of the echo of a memory remains”, it’s hard not to assume that the story is an allegory for the invasion of Central and South America by Europeans. The setting is very akin to South America, with jungles and rainforests, sand dunes, mountains and plateaus. The House of the Stars is a pyramid structure, many hundreds of steps tall, reminiscent of buildings constructed by ancient civilisations such as the Inca. And the invaders bring with them gunpowder and horses.

The Days of the Deer is the first part in an epic fantasy trilogy, and Liliana Bodoc has been described as ‘The Tolkien of the Americas’. I think this is overstating things a little, nevertheless, it is so refreshing to read a fantasy novel not set in some analogue of medieval Europe!

For a similar fable-type story, where intruders threaten to disrupt the fragile balance of a society, I recommend Knowledge of Angels, by Jill Paton Walsh.

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