Book Review: Land-Water-Sky/Ndè-Tı-Yat’a by Katłıà

This book was provided to me as an e-ARC from the publisher and NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

There’s a lot to appreciate about this debut novel. It brings the northern region of Canada and the traditional lands of the Indigenous people there to life with all its natural power and beauty. The story moves through time, weaving in the supernatural and the mythological. The close ties people and land are clear and the region is portrayed as one of immense beauty. The natural world and the supernatural are also shown as only thinly separated. Katłıà weaves in elements of traditional storytelling as well as creations of her own. A Dene author from northern Canada, Katłıà is obviously drawing from a lot of her own experience and background.

The story begins a millennia ago, the very beginnings of humankind, when an immortal, powerful being known as the Nąą́hgą hunts humankind, taking a human woman under his spell as his wife. We move forward to time to a young couple on the run from this Nąą́hgą, the woman a mysterious Sky Spirit about to give birth to her first child. That child grows up on a remote Northern alone, watching over the first people to arrive, eventually following them to the mainland where he watches their lives change dramatically with the arrival of white settlers. We move into the modern day, for a while returning to that remote island with a young archeology student who may be more than she appears. The ancient beings that have been the thread through the story appear in new forms but with familiar motives.

There is so much imagination here and I really wanted to like this book. Unfortunately, it never quite found its footing. In the end, I felt like I was reading a novel that needed to go through another draft or two. There were hints of an epic story but the thread running through to connect the characters wasn’t quite strong enough. It was a modern day myth but never fully brought out. There were too many unanswered questions for me at the end and in the final section, it seemed that the author was attempting to create a new point of view by introducing a brand new perspective that wasn’t given enough time for it to fully work for me.

Perhaps I could have forgiven a lot of this if I’d felt connected to any of the characters. Moving through time and stories meant that we never stayed long enough with any one character to really get to know them and thus the stakes never felt particularly high to me. At the same time, a lot of what we learn is from simply being told by third person narration. Over and over I wanted the narration to step back so that I could observe the characters, learn their motives through observation rather than being told what I was looking at.

I will be very curious to see what Katłıà writes next. I’d love to read more from this imaginative and creative writer but hopefully with a more focused storyline.

13 thoughts on “Book Review: Land-Water-Sky/Ndè-Tı-Yat’a by Katłıà”

    1. There’s still a lot of creativity here but it didn’t live up to the hype for me. I’d hate to turn anyone off of this one completely but I’d say proceed with caution!

  1. After I finished your review I looked at what others thought on Goodreads, and it seems they feel similarly. I was thinking about how it can be common in storytelling of Native peoples to have these long, journey-esque stories that don’t focus on a person but something larger, grander. The hard thing is it can start to sound like rambling to people outside of the culture. As someone who has listened to people who tell stories in this style, I get it. It can be hard to connect to.

    1. That’s a good point and one I hadn’t considered while reading the book. I think that could have worked if the story was all set in the past. The first sections do have a sort of feel of a legend being told. But it didn’t work in the same way with a modern setting and characters. I honestly probably could have done without the modern sections at all and enjoyed a book telling this legend in a traditional way like that.

    1. It does which made it all the more disappointing to me. It’s the type of book that I don’t want to dissuade people from reading but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend.

    1. I believe this is her first book. (So I have hope that we’ll see more and better from her!) I read about it on a list of fall releases on CBC books and then requested a copy when I saw that NetGalley had it.

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