fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYA fantasy book reviews Meredith Ann Pierce The Woman Who Loved ReindeerThe Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce

Set in a prehistoric fantasy setting of ice and snow, The Woman Who Loved Reindeer refers to its two main characters: the young Caribou and the child she names Reindeer. As someone who experiences prophetic dreams, Caribou lives alone until her sister-in-law brings to her a golden-haired child. Claiming that it is not her husband Visjna’s child (Caribou’s brother), Branja begs her to take in the child before Visjna returns from the season-long hunt and so that the child’s true father cannot come to claim him.

Caribou is initially disdainful of such a request, but the tiny infant soon warms her heart. Due to his love of the reindeer herds, she names him after them, and goes about raising him to the best of his ability. But soon it becomes clear that he is no ordinary child. After a terrifying run-in with a golden reindeer that results in her brother’s death, Caribou begins to notice more and more abnormalities about him: he neither cries nor laughs, bleeds golden blood, has inhuman reflections, and cannot understand the concept of love. But Caribou loves him deeply, and when she begins to suspect he is one of the spirit “daimons,” she is terrified that she will lose him forever. When the seasons change, he takes reindeer form in order to travel with the herds beyond the dangerous Burning Plains and the Lands of the Broken Snow.

But Caribou’s lands are in jeopardy. A range of natural disasters threatens the people. Having never been particularly close to them, Caribou is prepared to depart with Reindeer to safer lands — but years of service as a wisewoman make her sympathetic to those that come to her for help. She convinces Reindeer to lead all those who want to leave on the perilous journey to safety, and with her guiding dreams she leads her people onwards. But throughout the trek Caribou deals with an ongoing pain: whether or not Reindeer can come to love her, and whether she can trust him to fulfill his promise.

The Woman Who Loved Reindeer is another wonderful story from Meredith Ann Pierce, whose beautiful language, meaningful stories and rich themes make for essential reading. Her landscapes are wonderfully invoked, with everything from the languages to the details of clothing and utensils described to make the entire setting rich and realistic. Her use of real folklore (most of which is Scandinavian and Nordic), including daimons, trollwomen, sea-maids and Firekings, helps to create a sense of resonance and the feeling that this is a “real” part of the world’s mythology.

Which is interesting since, in terms of plot, it has several Biblical echoes — in particular Noah’s Ark and the story of Moses. Caribou’s people are driven from their homes by natural disasters (like the flood) and forced on a long journey to safety and freedom, which at one stage involves a land-bridge rising above the waters (like the parting of the Red Sea). Caribou is a wise and determined leader throughout, disciplining those that deserve it, encouraging the unfaithful, and seeing through her promise no matter what the costs.

Some things don’t quite gel together: the move from a mother/son relationship to lovers between Reindeer and Caribou is never quite drawn out or explored properly (surprising considering the changing feelings of love is the main theme — in fact the very title — of the book) and a second love interest is introduced only to be pushed to the side. And we never really learn anything conclusive about Branja’s fate. But for any fans of fantasy, storytelling, or Meredith Ann Pierce, this is a must-read.

The Woman Who Loved Reindeer — (1985) Young adult. Publisher: From the author of the Darkangel Trilogy comes an epic romance, in the tradition of The Clan of the Cave Bear, about a young woman’s love for a coldhearted shape-shifter.


  • Rebecca Fisher

    REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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