- File Size: 1511 KB
- Print Length: 208 pages
- Publisher: Solstice Shadows (August 28, 2015)
- Publication Date: August 28, 2015
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B013TAU6AG
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,076,476 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
|Print List Price:||$15.99|
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Camille and The Bears of Beisa-Drafnel Kindle Edition
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Top customer reviews
Salmon is able to seamlessly weave modern day Brooklyn, 20th Century Jamaica, and the fictional, futuristic Narvinia into a fascinating time-leaping read. Camille’s grandmother’s story was so engrossing that I almost wanted her to be the heroine of the story. There is Caribbean folklore, shapeshifters, and multiple villains to hate.
I found the book unpredictable, clever, and well-executed. Most of all, I loved that Salmon doesn’t pull any punches with what she puts her characters through, and she doesn’t talk down to the reader, either. You know you’re reading an epic fantasy. Her word choice is crisp and the voices are distinct. The book has several urban settings, a matriarchal society, and a female protagonist of African descent, which I’d love to see more of.
Features a large cast of people of color helmed by agentic, powerful women, yay! Portions of the book are set in Jamaica, so it’s not even entirely USA-centric, also yay!
No queer characters. No characters with identified disabilities.
Drafnel, the first novel in the Camille and the Bears of Beisa series by Simone Salmon, is a major genre-bender. Equal parts paranormal thriller, romance, sweeping sci-fi novel and folkloric fantasy all wrapped together, Salmon manages to weave them all into an absorbing whole. Drafnel is scheduled for release on August 28, 2015; you can learn more about the book here.
Drafnel is composed of several intersecting narratives strung across different universes and timelines, all connected by specific individuals who persist across time and space1. The anchor narrative is driven by Camille Matahari, a young woman in 21st century New York City fresh out of college with her whole life ahead of her. The book follows her as her otherworldly powers begin to unlock, and as she is hunted by a persistent and complicated evil across time and space. To survive, she draws on a community of people both familiar and unfamiliar to her, including her Indian-born Jamaican-raised grandmother, Catharine, her Afro-Latino boyfriend, Chase DeLeon, and the shifter Beisling Bear clan.
Drafnel is Dune-like in the grandiose sweep of its worldbuilding. The sci-fi universe Salmon creates, Narvina, with its eight ruling clans and ornate power structures was intriguing. It was also refreshing to read a great space opera like this where the people in charge are people of color, and where the universe is a matriarchy.
While anchored by Camille and her narrative, the book functions as a series of linked interludes. The POV switches between Camille, her grandmother, Chase, and others. When the POV switches to people in the far-future (far-past? Extra-dimensional?) world of Narvina, the reader is able to grasp what that universe is like from an insider’s perspective. These interludes are able to fill out the scope and reach of Narvina without an over-reliance on info-dumping. I will say that the lingo of Narvina, which required a glossary I found too late in my reading, confused me. But Salmon’s use of folktales and specific stories to build out the structure of this unfamiliar world, and to link it back to Camille’s story, was a brilliant narrative device.
There were also long sections that explored Camille’s grandmother’s childhood in Jamaica, and her grandmother’s awakening powers. These sections were wonderful—they created an additional counterpoint of paranormal weirdness (Camille experiencing these disruptions in our current time, her grandmother experiencing them in the 1950s in Jamaica) and provided another compelling narrative voice. Honestly, Catherine Matahari, Camille’s grandmother, stole the book for me. I loved her in all her incarnations. She was wonderfully drawn, and her sections held so much fine detail and description that I wanted the whole book to be about her. I felt her voice was stronger than Camille’s, ultimately.
The book is complicated, and thematically messy. It’s a surprisingly quick, short read, which is both good and bad: good, because it’s quick-paced and satisfying, bad because I wish Salmon had taken the time to dig into some of her themes and explore them with more nuance and depth. There was more to mine in this book, I think. There were some characters left unformed and half-developed, including Camille who never quite stands out from the cast of more sharply drawn characters around her. There were some ideas waiting to be clarified in the text that didn’t quite come together. But on the whole, Drafnel is a hugely ambitious book, and deeply felt, and it works.
1The structure and some of the themes of the book reminded me of the movie The Fountain, which I adored. This idea of the same person persisting in different forms across time and space, mostly through the power of deep emotional connection to other people, really connected the two pieces in my mind.
Camille and the Bears of Beisa-Drafnel is composed of four pirmary narratives interwoven throughout the story.The core story takes place in the here and now and focuses on Camille Matahari. We first meet her as she's moving into her new Manhattan apartment with several friends. The writing in this section is very contemporary and accurately reflects the self confidence of young urban women who feel they're on the cusp of great things and fully in control of their personal destinies. (I've met this class of female in the person of my daughter and her friends. As a father, part of me admired their unrelenting sassiness and optimism while another gritted my teeth at their naivete. It's all part of your Fatherhood training.)
Soon, however, it becomes apparent that there's something more inhabiting their cozy apartment space (and I'm not referring to the pervasive cockroach community that is a permanent fixture of the New York tenement scene). Unseen forces are attempting to communicate with Camille and at this point the book's narrative shifts to our second heroine, Camille's "Gram," Catherine.
The scene's describing Catherine's sojourn in Jamaica are the strongest section of the book. This narrative begins when the young girl, along with her brother and sister, is sent from India to live with her "aunt" in Jamaica, an evil character cast in the same mold as Mrs. Reed of Jayne Eyre and on a lighter scale, Aunt Petunia of Harry Potter.
The aunt is secretly renamed "Ugly Red" by the young Catherine and over the years imposes a regime of deliberate cruelty and suffering on Catherine and her two siblings. I found this description of Ugly Red's murder of Catherine's only friend, a small pet chicken, particularly heartbreaking and horrifying:
One day, Ugly Red trapped Taw under an old dirty bucket after discovering our playtime and friendship. Ugly Red wrung Taw’s fragile neck with a brittle crack. On her final breath, Taw’s head sagged to the side.
Ugly Red sniffed Taw’s dead body and then tied her feet to the clothing line so that she hung upside down. I watched, horrified, as all of the blood drained from Taw’s tiny body. She then proceeded to boil Taw and pluck all of her beautiful feathers. Afterward, Ugly Red laughed, licking her lips, as I cooked and fed her my only friend.
That's a bit of writing that stays with you a long time.
As the story progresses, Camille's hidden powers begin to manifest themselves and the four different worlds and times the book tracks begin to intertwine across the aeons. We discover the bears of the story's title are a cadre of protective guardians sent to protect Catherine and her ancestors from the forces of darkness represented by Ugly Red and her minions.
As I noted earlier, the other two narratives of the book revolve around a "present" and "future" Narvina, where much of the mystery surrounding Camille and Catherine is explained. However, since Bears is the first in a trilogy, I expect to see these other aspects of her universe expanded and fleshed out with the rich prose she is capable of writing. The story deserves it.
A word about the book cover art. I found it lovely and moving, a bright visual blend of pathos and primitivism, and very reflective of author Simone Salmon's Jamaican heritage.