Julie Copp, the author of The Shaman’s Secret, lives part of the year in Venezuela. The rest of the year she resides in Prince Edward Island. That is how her novel, the first of four, came to our attention.
It could best be described as a double novel with the two parts somewhat intertwined. In addition, it could be described as the stories of two beautiful girls, one living in northeast Venezuela about 600 A.D., while Lorinda, the other, lives in Victoria, B.C., in the present time. Lorinda is the last descendant of Anani, the Venezuelan girl. How these two are related and come to know each other is the theme of this book. They presumably get to know each other — and perhaps do something together — which comprises the story’s narrative.
Copp seems to have extensively researched the customs of the Venezuelan Indians. She describes them all — their food, their marriage customs, their dances — in great and almost overwhelming detail. Although she acknowledges some of what she describes comes from her own imagination, it fits so well with all that’s based on research and, perhaps, her observation. Certainly the “exalted historical personages” she mentions are so well surrounded by fictional characters that only someone acquainted with the history of that time and place would be able to tell the difference.
Her evocation of the landscapes, especially the sea, are so vivid they entice the reader to visit them for themselves. This is not so striking in the chapters that deal with modern British Columbia, perhaps because Lorinda does not move about much compared to Anani. Nevertheless there are some striking descriptive passages, chiefly of the sea, in that part, too.
As for the characters themselves, they are lifelike, if not fully alive. The ancient ones, especially the Shaman, are notably more vivid than the modern ones, some of whom seem to have come out of a sitcom. It is worth noting that both Anani and Lorinda are artists; the former makes cult objects and jewelry, while the latter paints and sculpts figures of animals. Many of Anani’s carvings are traded with other tribes, mainly for girls to help increase her tribe’s population.
To sum up, The Shaman’s Secret is a most remarkable book for a first novel. So wide a scope, so many characters, the double plot — any one of these could have caused disaster. Congratulations to Copp. We look forward to the nest instalment of this story.
Elizabeth Cran is a freelance writer who writes a book review column for The Guardian. To comment or to send her books to review, write her at her new address: 95 Orange St., Apt. 101, Saint John N.B., E2L 1M5, or call her at 506-693-5498.