This month sees the publication of the 21st book, “Less Than A Treason”. Before I read it, I decided to remind myself of the story so far and how I felt about it. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers but it’s inevitable that you’ll get a sense of what happens to Kate during the course of the series.
I’ve split this into four posts to make them easier to read. I’ve provided links to my spoiler-free reviews of individual books if you want to be certain of not hearing something you don’t want to know.
In the previous book, the Auntie’s over-stepped, upsetting the equilibrium of the Park and unleashing vigilante violence and starting to lose control of the community.
In “Whisper To The Blood is as the consequences of this imbalance manifest, I understood the balance Kate Shugak always brings to her actions. Kate isn’t motivated by power or a need to be in control. She doesn’t give way to the outrage she sometimes feels. Without having to think through why, when she acts to limit harm or protect the weak, she does so with a calm fury guided by her sense of what is right. That’s what makes her respected and feared. It’s also what prevents her from understanding fully the power that she has.
The fun element in this book comes from watching Kate deal with having political power thrust on her by mastering it so she can give it away. Yet the book has a dark, cold feel to it with snowmobile trips to remote landscapes only to find slaughter, attacks on the frozen river and a killer on the loose.
“A Night Too Dark” surprised me, given the title, by being an up-beat Kate Shugak novel. Nothing lifts my spirit more than being around Kate Shugak when things are going well.
Of course, up-beat is a relative term. This is a Kate Shugak novel so, although the book is filled with the intense sunshine of humour, love, sexual attraction, practical compassion, moral courage and physical bravery, it is still loomed over by deaths, murders, political intrigue and the impossibility of being able to save everyone.
Dana Stabenow’s ability to write (relatively short) novels that make me laugh, cry, become angry and relax in the company of characters who feel like friends continues to astonish me.
“Though Not Dead” was a wonderful, spirit-raising read. This is Kate Shugak at her best, following a quest, solving puzzles, exploring her family’s past, using her wits and her strength and her courage to take on the bad guys with only Mutt at her side.
The plot of “Although Not Dead” is driven by the bequests of two dead men: Old Sam, who leaves all his property to Kate, along with a one-line instruction that sets her on a path to discover more about Old Sam’s past than she might want to know, and Jim Shugak’s father who leaves him an enigmatic gift that will change Jim’s understanding of his own childhood.
Kate’s intense, sometimes combative, sometimes deferential, but always loving, relationship with Old Sam contrasts starkly with Jim’s emotionally barren childhood, the sterility of which is illustrated by the fact that Jim was at a sleep-over with friends before he discovered that parents hugged their children.
I particularly enjoyed seeing the world that Old Sam grew up and the events that shaped the world Kate has grown up taking for granted.
We learn how Sam came to own the Freya and why he spent so much time away from home. We come to understand his rugged independence and some of his loneliness. In some senses, “Although Not Dead” is like a wake for Old Sam. It gave me a sense of completion, off saying goodbye to him without forgetting him.
“Restless In The Grave” This is the book where Kate Shugak and State Trooper Liam Campbell, the lead in Dana Stabenow’s other Alaskan series, finally get to meet. Kate get’s to go undercover investigate a possible murder at Newenham, Trooper Liam Campbell’s domain. She gets locked up and hit over the head but it stills feels like freedom to, leave Niniltna politics behind.
It was fun getting to see the Liam Campbell cast of characters through Kate’s eyes and seeing Jim realise how much he misses Kate.
The plot turned out to be big and twisty and perfectly paced. It also set up some challenges for Kate when she returns home.
“Bad Blood” When I read this book, I believed it was the last time I’d be in Kate’s company and I was surprised to find how much I’d miss her and the people around her.
I won’t go into the plot here. It would spoil the book. Instead I’m going to remember the things in this book that showed me Kate in her prime.
Kate is not a saint. She hates as intensely as she loves. She judges people and she acts on her judgement. She is capable of great generosity and violent vengeance. She is almost always fearless and when she’s not fearless she’s brave.
The Kate in “Bad Blood” is not the Kate I met in book one,“A Cold Day For Murder”, reclusive, damaged, unwilling to be part of the lives of others, nor is she the woman so lost to grief that she has abandoned herself, that I met in my book eleven “The Singing Of The Dead”. She has become a woman at peace with herself and her family and friends. She is full of passion and potential and serious intent.
“Bad Blood” is full of small scenes of joy and friendship. It also contains violence prompted by hate and ignorance and shear male pig-headedness. It is another credible and compelling view of Alaska. It is another chance to understand that who we are is as much about what we do as what we think.
And now Book 21…
It’s eighteen months since I last saw Kate. Now I have book 21 on my iPad mini, waiting for me.
I’m almost reluctant to open it, yet I was too impatient to wait for the audiobook version to be ready.
Just because Kate and the people around her are fictional doesn’t mean that what happens to them doesn’t matter.
In the end, all you can do is trust the author. After all, she’s the real source of the meaning in these books.
I’ve honoured my memory of Kate. Now I’m going to see what happens next.