It’s sheer coincidence that I saved this for Native American Heritage Month, but I’m so glad the Hugos forced me to finally get around to reading it!
Elatsoe is the full name of Lipan Apache Ellie Bride, a teenage girl who lives in a Texas much like our own but with certain significant differences. For a start, Ellie’s ability to summon and talk to the ghosts of animals is unusual but not as outlandish as it might be in our reality; similarly with her best friend Jay’s British-fae heritage that allows him to travel through fairy rings. When her beloved ghost dog Kirby warns of an imminent death, Ellie goes into a minor tailspin, searching to make sure that her nearest and dearest are all safe. The friends and family that she can immediately contact are all fine, but then her parents get a phone call letting them know that Ellie’s cousin Trevor has died in a car accident at the other end of the state.
While the loss of a beloved older cousin who’d just started a family of his own would be crushing enough, Ellie’s grief is further intensified by Trevor’s appearance to her that night in a dream. His fading spirit tells her that he was murdered by a man named Abe Allerton from the nearby town of Willowbee. On waking, Ellie is sure that this was no mere dream, and shares it with her parents. They agree that they all ought to go support Trevor’s widow Lenore and his infant son Gregory, which will allow Ellie the opportunity too to get to the bottom of things once there.
“There” turns out to be a bit of a surprise. Willowbee is a weird place, pristinely green despite its location in the arid Texas heat. Abe is a pretty big deal in town, a prominent doctor whose son was a student of schoolteacher Trevor’s just a few years past. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for Abe to have killed Trevor, but Lenore is certain that, official rulings notwithstanding, foul play was somehow involved. Trevor had no reason to be on the road where his body and vehicle were found, and while there’s no direct connection to Abe himself, it’s pretty clear that Abe has all the town officials in his pocket, and is discouraging any questioning.
Ellie throws herself into investigating what really happened, drawing support not only from stories of Six-Great, her ancestress who was also a great warrior known for communing with ghosts, but also from her friends, family and the Lipan Apache traditions that have helped guide the latter through generations. She’ll certainly need all the support she can get as she uncovers the awful secret of Willowbee and what truly happened to her cousin. But will she be able to stop all the malevolent forces converging on the town, and save herself and her loved ones in the process?
This is a really great urban fantasy/alternate history YA novel that showcases an asexual heroine and her proud cultural heritage. It’s an amazing way to learn more about Lipan Apache customs and folklore, as well as to see how they play against more European traditions of fairies and vampirism. I really enjoyed too how even in this alternate universe, colonialism and racism are issues that need to be addressed, as Darcie Little Badger does masterfully. Rovina Cai also contributes some wonderful illustrations, including that terrific cover!
The burning question for me right now, tho, is whether this transcends the magnificent Raybearer for the Hugo’s 2021 Lodestar Award. Alas, no: Raybearer was my favorite book of 2020, so it would take a LOT to beat that. Elatsoe is still very much an excellent novel that deserves to be widely read and lauded.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger was published August 25 2020 by Levine Querido and is available from all good booksellers, including