17 July 2011

Why not dead?

Well, I was reading through a welcome stack of books that I began accumulating in April, and dear Nancy brings home a book from the library. That means I should read it before it is returned unless I want to make the effort to find it later. Not that I minded much. The book was another in the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow. I've liked most of Stabenow's books that I've read.

This one is Though Not Dead.

Right off the bat, I have to give this book two Green Lantern Superhero awards and a Heart of Gold Improbability award.

That bat, that I mentioned above, is about the only thing that wasn't used to hit Stabenow's superhero Kate Shugak in this book. I lost count whether it was 3, 4, or 5 times that Shugak was knocked silly and unconscious during the course of this story. I would suspect that Stabenow has a medical consultant she could consult about the short and long term effects of those injuries, but I really doubt that Shugak could wake up, blink, and carry on as nonchalantly as she does in this story. (Of course, as I recall, Shugak has survived worse in other stories, but in my memories her recoveries have been more realistic.)

Then there's the plot within which all this damage is done. As the book opens, Shugak's self-appointed foster father has died. He was a respected community elder. His gruff, outspoken manner was appreciated by most people. He left a mysterious message for Kate Shugak with his will, and that sets the story in motion.

It's a wonderfully complex story. Only slightly improbable. It's the actions of Kate Shugak and her "enemies" that are improbable. The bits and pieces of the story unwind and then join together in fine ways. Stabenow is a very good story teller. That is what holds this all together in the face of superheroism and incredibly unlikely events.

Like the other Kate Shugak stories, it takes place within the mostly native community on the edge of wilderness in southeast Alaska. The area is about 200 miles southeast of Wasilla in "the park," Stabenow's name for the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Since the park is so new, there is still a lot of private land and some native communities within the park. (After all, there's still some private land within Glacier National Park, and it's 101 years old.)

Downtown Chitina, Alaska, near the site of Niniltna
(reminds me of Cicely from Northern Exposure
Of course, outside shots for that TV show were filmed in Roslyn, WA)

Niniltna and the native villages are familar communities, full of familiar people to readers of earlier Stabenow books. But, there's a big mining company doing an environmental impact study for a proposed gold mine nearby that brings in a lot of outsiders as well as providing jobs to many locals. Plus, Stabenow allows the community to change, as with the death of Shugak's "father." That kind of vitality is one of the things that makes these stories attractive to me.

Oh, and Kate Shugak's love interest? He's off in California because of the death of his father. And presumably he's coming back to the wilderness richer than Croesus. What will become of two rich adventurous do-gooders in "the park?"

The hard-headedness of superhero Shugak and too many improbabilities keep me from proclaiming this really great. But I liked reading most of it.

Have you read Though Not Dead or other Stabenow books? What did you think of them? Write and tell this little bit of the world.

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