Sunday, February 18, 2024

Paradigm Lost: Jamari Shaman

R Roderick Rowe
Completed 2/18/2024, Reviewed 2/18/2024
3 stars

I liked this book a little better than the first book in this trilogy, Paradigm Lost: Jamari and the Manhood Rites.  This book was not an erotic novel, and I understand that Rowe has toned down the erotica in the first book in a subsequent edition.  Sexuality is still at the forefront of this book, but it is much more tied to the spirituality of the tribe.  That made it more interesting.  However, I felt like the book still suffered from the same basic issues as the first, mainly, it feels more like a documentary than a novel.  There isn’t much tension or conflict until the last fifty pages or so.  Interestingly enough, I found myself pretty moved by the ending.  I guess I had become attached to the main characters more than I thought I did.  

In this book, the older members of the tribe realize that Jamari has the talents to be a shaman.  Jamari himself isn’t aware of how advanced he is, until he is told.  Jamari worries that the others of his age group who are training to become full men and citizens of their tribe will treat him differently.  However, that fear is unsubstantiated as most things proceed as normal.  Jamari and the others of the Young Men’s Hall are now mentoring newer young men who are ready for adulthood.  As he and his peers excel in their studies, they are awarded new ranks in the militia.  Jamari, while being a shaman in training, becomes the chaplain.  Things go well for a while until he is sent with a squad to the coast to manufacture salt from the ocean, negotiate a treaty with the coastal tribe, and look for illegal fishing practices along the way.  

What I liked best about this book was the introduction of more spirituality into the story, which you expect as the main character finds out he is not just a shaman, but has talents greater than the current Knight Shaman.  I can’t remember if this is from a review I read or one of the book’s descriptions, but it’s like a mix of Native American and Celtic spirituality sprinkled with a little Gnosticism.  It makes for very interesting directions in the plot.  I particularly liked how one of the other shaman’s references quotes from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.  It is some beautiful theology, which I’ve been exposed to by reading Elaine Pagels, which I bet Rowe himself also read.  

What I didn’t care for was that most of the book is the day-to-day activities of the tribe.  That’s the part that reads like non-fiction.  While many may find it interesting, I would have liked to have seen more fiction in it.  By that I mean some tension and conflict to move the plot along.  It makes for great world building, as it did in the first book.  I just need some more tension to keep me interested in the story.  I think another reason is that this tribe is a utopian society.  And in that environment, the people are all happy and work toward the common good.  Most utopian novels turn out to be dystopian.  This one isn’t.  And that’s what makes it dry in many places.

Now, there is some conflict, like one of the young men Jamari mentors is probably exclusively heterosexual.  This poses the question of how to work him in as a productive member of the tribe.  It’s a neat reversal of how society normally works.  However, it continues to pop up through the story and doesn’t get resolved until the end.   There’s also an exciting scene with a cougar and the realization that Jamari has more than one spirit animal, and for that matter, more than just an ordinary shaman.

The ending of the book is really good.  That’s where there is tension and conflict, and even tragedy, which I did not see coming.  The tragedy was done with much grace and sensitivity.  It drew a tear to my eye.  That’s where I realized I was more caught up in the characters than I thought.

I give the book three stars out of five.  I have the third book, which I’ll read in a few weeks.  The author has many other short books out which include side stories this post-apocalyptic utopia.  There are also a few books to where Rowe has moved all the erotica.  I’m not sure I’ll read any of those, except for one book I got at the sci fi convention which tells the account of how the tribe got started.  I’ll read that one after I finish this trilogy.  

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