Friday, August 31, 2018

The Ugly One, by Leanne Statland Ellis

In this historical novel set in the Incan empire (pre-conquest), Micay’s deep facial scar has marked her as ugly and detestable in her village. Tormented by a boy her age named Ocho and avoided by most of the village, she is terribly lonely.  But when a stranger comes to town and gives her a baby macaw to take care of, her world begins to change.  She is drawn to the local shaman and begins to learn his ways and then is invited to go to the sacred city of Machu Picchu.

With limited information on the Inca, Ellis has made the most of the documentary evidence, delighting in recalling the diet and manners, and then elaborating on it with a certain amount of idealism (blithely informing us that while the Inca may have practiced human sacrifice, the victims went willingly and joyfully).  More important in her Rousseauian idyll, the people lived one with nature and were gentle users of the planet.

As a story, Micay’s journey is satisfying, showing her growth from timid and afraid to gaining the confidence she needs to serve her leadership calling.  Some key story elements (like the reason for Micay’s facial scarring) are held back too long, but provides a better dramatic arc.

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