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The Kin    by Peter Dickinson order for
by Peter Dickinson
Order:  USA  Can
Firebird, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Peter Dickinson takes us to a time in prehistory (Africa 200,000 years in the past), when humanity was on the cusp of language acquisition. He follows a group of children of the Moonhawk Kin through coming of age adventures, involving encounters with other groups of early humans as well as a variety of natural disasters. Separating the chapters are creation stories, Oldtales, made up by the Kin to explain the world around them. The Kin is a 4-book omnibus, including Suth's Story, Noli's Story, Ko's Story and Mana's Story.

In Suth's Story, Suth and Noli separate from their Kin. The group had fled murderous strangers, and smaller children (unable to keep up) were left behind. Suth and Noli retrieve them and follow a path shown to Noli by the Moonhawk. Though Suth is still a child, he is the eldest and leads. They temporarily join the Monkey Kin, who suffer from interbreeding, and will not permit them to leave. With the help of clever Tinu of the twisted mouth, Suth fights a leopard and wins. Eventually a volcano erupts and the children are able to flee.

In Noli's Story, they rescue an injured stranger whom they name Tor. At first they wonder if he is people, since he cannot speak like they do, but he helps them and they learn to communicate. Tinu works out how to store fire and carry it between campsites. They encounter a canyon people and Noli befriends Goma who also hears a First One. They survive a flash flood and attack by lions, and join up with members of their Moonhawk Kin again. They find new ways to live and Noli chooses a mate.

Ko was a small, rambunctious child in Suth's Story, always in trouble. He's anxious to prove himself and does so in Ko's Story by finding a way across perilous marshes to a meeting with marsh people, who later are persuaded to guide the entire group across - this is facilitated by their earlier defeat of a monster crocodile. Ko also helps his smart friend Tinu to find a mate, and averts conflict between his folk and the marsh people by his actions.

Finally, in Mana's Story, the Kin have crossed the marshes but meet the aggressive 'demon men' whom the marsh folk fear. They fight back after one of their number if killed, but the violence damages Mana's spirit, until she is able to balance the scales. As the Kin settle into a set of 'Good Places' Mana concludes that the choice between good and bad, 'That was people stuff.'

As usual, Peter Dickinson gives us an empathetic, engaging, exciting story that makes his period credible - after reading The Kin, it's hard to believe that these Moonhawk folk did not roam the earth 200,000 years ago.

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