3 out of 4 stars
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The Asteroid, Natives of the Northwest and the Blind Detective by Shawn Adair Johnston is somewhat unique in featuring a blind protagonist, and it does so with aplomb. The book is about the challenges that Peter, the eponymous blind detective, and his friends face when a freak incident involving an asteroid transports them to an alternate version of Earth. In this new reality, Native Americans pushed back the white settlers invading their land and created their own nation that spans half of North America. Peter and his friends need to learn to navigate the new world if they want to have any hope of finding their way home.
Right off the bat, this book introduces some very interesting characters. There are several sentient nonhumans, including Peter's guide dog Watson and the augmented chimpanzee Aristotle, and they lend some science fiction flavor to the book's universe, making it feel that much more unique. However, I do feel like the number of main characters was far too ambitious. Most of the human protagonists from Peter's world fall into the background and go underdeveloped.
The narrative uses the first person, and the way the author creates vivid imagery without relying at all on Peter's own sight is impressive. The characters spend much of the story trekking through natural environments, and these scenes are always immersive; the author's passion for nature is obvious. I found the plot rather aimless, though. Some conflicts, such as the evil spirit introduced towards the end, felt like they were thrown in just to maintain a semblance of tension.
The book does a good job of focusing on the traditions of a single Native American tribe, the Nisqually, and it even incorporates aspects of their mythology that are often overlooked. It seemed like the main characters never progressed past the honeymoon stage of culture shock, though, and the picture painted of Native American life in the alternate future often felt romanticized. It was extremely weird to me that a character thought their culture represented a "softer and gentler version of human society," even after learning about its rigid societal roles and blatant nepotism.
At the end of the day, I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. It's definitely entertaining, and it's got some interesting worldbuilding, but there are some elements that needed more work, like the ensemble cast and overarching plot cohesion. There are also more grammatical errors than you'd expect from a published work, mostly involving capitalization and apostrophe usage. I think the book would appeal most to people interested in exploring the world from different perspectives, like those of blind people and Native Americans. If you're looking for a book full of dramatic plot twists and action scenes, this isn't for you.
The Asteroid,Natives of the Northwest and the Blind Detective
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