Zadayi Red
Caleb Fox
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Buy *Zadayi Red* by Caleb Fox

Zadayi Red
Caleb Fox
352 pages
July 2009
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Caleb Fox's mythical and mystical fantasy debut Zadayi Red tells the stories of the medicine woman Sunoya and her adopted son, Dahzi, as they both struggle to fulfill their destinies.

Sunoya is born under inauspicious omens. Her people, the Galayi, believe that it is a very good omen if a person is born with webbing between the two last fingers of the left hand. However, if the right-hand fingers have webbing between them, it is a very bad omen. Sunoya is born with webbing on both her hands. She should have been killed, but instead her mother and aunt cut away the webbing between her right fingers and keep the secret. Sunoya grows up wondering if she will become a bad person or a good one, but she decides to make her life a good one.

She has begun to see visions of the Cape of Eagle Feathers bloodied and soiled. While wearing the Cape, the Seer of the People can commune with the Immortals and bring back their messages to the Galayi, so Sunoya's visions bode great ill. When she decides to warn the Seer, the wounded healer Tsola, Sunoya is told that she must go the world of the Immortals and ask their advice. There, the Thunderbird tells Sunoya that the Cape will be desecrated because a Galayi will break the Immortals' most important rule: do not kill you own kind. The Thunderbird also offers her a spirit guide to help her in trying to avoid the desecration. If Sunoya agrees to take a guide, however, she must remain a virgin and without any official position in any tribe. She agrees.

Sunoya, her Spirit Guide and the Seer try their best to change the future they have seen. Unfortunately, they do not succeed, but a glimmer of hope lies in a prophesy about a hero who will return the Cape of Eagle Feathers to its former glory and bring peace and prosperity back to the Galayi tribes. Sunoya ends up becoming a foster mother to an infant who she believes to be the hero. That boy, Dahzi, is the protagonist during the most of the book.

Fox's descriptions of the culture, people and the setting feel mythical and full of magic. People make spirit journeys to the land of Immortals and talk to them. Sunoya has an Immortal as her Spirit Guide and communicates with him through mental contact. Tsola is over one hundred years old but looks like she is in her forties. Her son can change himself into a panther when he wants to. Still, these are all extraordinary things to most of the Galayi who live normal lives.

In this coming-of-age story, both Sunoya and Dahzi travel their own paths to adulthood. The characters are quite vibrant and despite the cultural differences do not feel alien. Sunoya is a young woman trying her best to do the right thing. Slowly, she eases into her role as a medicine woman. Tsola is the wise wounded healer whom everyone respects, yet she is also quite vulnerable. Her fierce, protective son prefers his panther form to his human form. Dahzi, meanwhile, grows up believing that he is the prophesied hero, when all he wants to do is to complete his spirit quest, become a full adult, and marry the girl he loves.

Beyond Sunoya and Dahzi, a few other point-of-view characters take the reins of the narrative. Sometimes the point-of-view shifts unexpectedly for just a few sentences to the thoughts of another character whom we may not necessarily see again. This can be a little disconcerting. Overall, though, Zadayi Red is an excellent choice for anyone searching for a different sort of fantasy.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Mervi Hamalainen, 2010

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