4 out of 4 stars
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Okefenokee Swamp’s antiquity is long and winding and records the history of the different inhabitants who arrived in the swamp and found it a sanctuary of inner peace and strength. So, some of these dwellers include indigenous Indians, settlers from the major European powers since the 17th Century, as well as a plethora of slave escapees from different locations. The result of this migration is an amalgamation of varied beliefs and customs, some of which are captured by Pat Haris in her book Heks Island – Wind & Fire.
Interestingly, the tranquility and natural sounds of Heks Island, that haven in the swamp, inspires the witch Hattie Mae to communicate in rhymes and songs. Her maternal instinct, as well as her knowledge in earth magick, see her meet and heal Dr. Ben Bouvier, a medical expert on the run. Eventually, like Yin and Yang, they complement each other’s strengths as far as physical and spiritual harmony is concerned, inevitably, becoming the de facto leaders of Heks Island.
It’s unlikely I’ll ever visit the swamp; but the novel’s description, earlier on in the book’s introduction, talked of the “primeval land of unexcelled beauty that few have experienced.” This created in me a distinct feeling that I was about to have a unique experience unavailable to others. Furthermore, Haris’ writing is compelling as it’s conflict-driven. It explores the contrast between a tribe living holistically with nature, and another one that is fueled by commercial considerations and hell-bent on destroying the same environment.
Moreover, Haris’ appreciative tone for nature is reflected in the wonderful characters she’s created. She shows how the dead and the gods aren’t impervious to the world of the living. Instead, through natural elements, they facilitate certain knowledge, such as the art of healing, to be known and practiced for the common good (and sometimes the bad, as well). Besides, the characters described by Haris are realistically portrayed, i.e., fashioned with real emotions and motivations.
The only problem I had with the novel was the occasional inaccurate information it gave concerning certain drugs vis-à-vis the period, e.g., I don’t think antibiotics were in existence at the turn of the 20th Century.
As I conclude, I valued this novel more for its entertainment value than its educational qualities. Nevertheless, I’m sure some readers will be interested in the various descriptions of herbs and their medicinal or magical properties, or even with the various rituals described therein. Additionally, reflective of the period and education level of the characters, the language used was highly informal, and hence, I didn’t penalize it for grammar. However, I identified several cases of a certain character’s name appearing misspelled.
Lastly, since there was little to dislike about the novel, I rate it 4 out of 4 stars. I recommend this book to any mature person who likes historically oriented books that are full of adventure, folklore, and myths. On the other hand, it will be less suited to those who dislike descriptions of witchcraft and magic in their stories.
Heks Island - Wind and Fire
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