The Visitant: Satisfying historical fantasy

The Visitant by Kathleen O’Neal Gear & W. Michael Gear historical fantasy book reviewsThe Visitant by Kathleen O’Neal Gear & W. Michael Gear

The Visitant brought all sorts of family vacation memories to my mind. It reminded me of all the times I’d hiked through the ruins of Mesa Verde and imagined all the people who had worn those same rocks smooth hundreds of years ago. That’s part of the power of the book. It takes people back in time to revisit portions of their own lives, and back to the time of the Anasazi.

The Visitant is told from two different periods of time. There is the modern day story, centering around the archeologist Dusty and his crew as they unearth bones which tell a mysterious story. There’s also the ancient past involving the war chief Browser and his warrior Catkin. Their perspectives basically tell the reader how the bones got to be where they were. These two very different perspectives work together to unravel a very absorbing mystery. Furthermore, they show the reader how archeologists probably view a site (I’m not an archeologist so I can’t say how accurate this book is in that respect) and how ancient peoples may have worked to solve a mystery without any technology, and explained certain things, like madness.

The Visitant is best categorized as historical fiction/fantasy, but will satisfy the needs of readers craving some sort of fantasy elements. While everything that happens has real-world, non-fantasy explanations, the Anasazi believed in multiple gods, witches who change shape, spirits who can take over bodies, prophetic dreams, and potential hauntings.

The Gear team did some amazing research when writing The Visitant. This book does a great job at keeping readers entertained and guessing while educating them on ancient Anasazi culture. The story takes place in a rather chaotic period of Anasazi history which makes a great backdrop for a mystery. The climate was changing and the vast Anasazi network of tribes were scattering, wandering, and losing much of what made them so powerful. There were wars and infighting. Food was hard to come by and their culture was being lost. The Gear’s drop in plenty of historical facts and important information without relying on infodumps. All of the information readers will glean from the book is subtly woven into the story. Catkin and Browser, as well as their tribe, show the readers how the average Anasazi would handle such a volatile period in their history.

In modern times, physical anthropologist Dr. Maureen Cole and Dusty stumble upon a mass grave and work together to find out what the bodies are telling them about the events that transpired back in Browser’s time. This portion of the book was far less compelling than the ancient storyline. The modern tale seems to only partially center on science, and while it is fascinating to see how two very diverging periods of time would look at the same mystery, most of the modern storyline was about a developing relationship that is obvious and cliché. The modern storyline would have been more interesting if the authors had ditched the overblown personal drama and just focused on the science.

My last nagging complaint will be very hard for me to put into a review due to spoilers. I will keep it brief and say that, while the mystery is solved and the book has a very satisfying ending, the authors left out certain important details which I missed. There was a distinct lack of information with the solving of this mystery which really strained my ability to believe in the clean, nicely tied-up ending.

At the end of the day, The Visitant is an absolutely fascinating tale of life with the ancient Anasazi in the Chaco Canyon area. The Gears’ work together to create a rich, vibrant world filled with memorable characters. Readers will not only learn a lot, but gain a huge appreciation for the ancient peoples and life back in those times. While the modern portions of the book are sorely lacking compared to the ancient portions, they are still entertaining. It is very interesting to see how two very different people from two very different time periods would treat the same mystery. The Visitant is a solid first book in a trilogy that is sure to please fantasy and historical fiction readers alike.

Published in 1999. Award-winning archaeologists Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear have enriched and entertained an avid international audience of millions with their rousing historical epic of the pre-Columbian peoples of North America. Now these master storytellers turn to the American Southwest, to one of the most enigmatic people to ever inhabit this continent — the Anasazi. At its pinnacle in A.D. 1150, their empire was vast and sophisticated, unequaled until the arrival of the Europeans. Dr. Maureen Cole, one of the world’s foremost physical anthropologists, has been called in to examine and evaluate a mass grave discovered in New Mexico. The burial site contains only the shattered skulls of women and children. Dr. Cole is appalled at the find and begins working immediately to unravel the mystery of these deaths. But as she works, strange things begin to happen around her. Little incidents at first, then her generator quits, and she begins to hear whispering voices emanating from the plastic bag of bones. In the nearby canyons, just a scant few moments ago in geologic time, a series of brutal murders has terrified the Katsinas’ People. Their war chief, Browser, wanders the canyon rim at night, alone and terrified, searching for the killer. Eight women have been savagely murdered. Their bodies were dragged through the village, then disappeared. Browser desperately turns to the crazy old man they call “Stone Ghost.” They say he has powers, but Browser has secrets he dare not allow anyone to reveal — even if it means that everything and everyone he loves will fall in the path of a ruthless murderer. Is the barrier between one time and another merely a construct of perception originating in the human mind? Whatever it is that separates the past and the present has grown perilously thin as a killer stalks helpless victims in two different centuries.

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SARAH CHORN, one of our regular guest reviewers, has been a compulsive reader her whole life, and early on found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a published photographer, world traveler and recent college graduate and mother. Sarah keeps a blog at Bookworm Blues.

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