Winner of the Nebula Award: An archaeologist with a strange power risks death to unlock the secret of the Mayans
When night falls over the Yucatan, the archaeologists lay down their tools. But while her colleagues relax, Elizabeth Butler searches for shadows. A famous scientist with a reputation for eccentricity, she carries a strange secret. Where others see nothing but dirt and bones and fragments of pottery, Elizabeth sees shades of the men and women who walked this ground thousands of years before. She can speak to the past—and the past is beginning to speak back.As Elizabeth communes with ghosts, the daughter she abandoned flies to Mexico hoping for a reunion. She finds a mother embroiled in the supernatural, on a quest for the true reason for the Mayans’ disappearance. To dig up the truth, the archaeologist who talks to the dead must learn a far more difficult skill: speaking to her daughter.
This was an impulse purchase! I think I read the summary and thought “oh, that sounds good” and went for it. Good decision, past me.
There’s a certain subset of pre-1990s sfnal that I enjoy; idk what it’s called but it’s basically a bunch of authors having conversations about feminism and women and society, wrapped up in a cocoon of time travel and/or ghosts and/or dystopias. Woman on the Edge of Time. The Handmaid’s Tale. The Falling Woman!
The Falling Woman is about gender and gender roles, women and the terrible expectations society puts on us, love and the absence of it, mothers and daughters, and lots of other things I probably missed. Plus, two narrators!
I really liked the archaeology parts, much more than I thought I would. There’s some great stuff about how to run a dig, the different dynamics of the people working on the dig (including the actual diggers and how they interact with the archaeologists), practical things like how to map out a site, and fun stuff like that. Did you know I nearly minored in archaeology in college? I am ALL OVER that fun stuff.
The fantasy part is more like…well, not magical realism, because it’s definitely happening. But it’s not a dragons-and-wizards kind of fantasy. It’s real life, just with ghosts and gods. Maya ghosts and Maya gods, too, which I loved despite the somewhat awkward feeling that comes from having a white narrator tell me everything about a people while the people are perfectly able to tell it themselves. (Would I have liked this book even more with a Maya protagonist? Yes, for sure. Is there a book like that out there somewhere for me to read? Hit me up.)
It’s interesting, too, how the male characters were either a) abusive, b) subservient, c) players or d) dead or about to be dead. There were a few positive female characters, but the narrative stuck very tightly to Liz and Diane. There wasn’t much room for friends in this story, even friends of 30 years, and trying to make new friends just led to bad decisions. It’s pretty claustrophobic, actually.
Anyway: I liked it! I liked the layering of personal and historical mysteries, and how creepy yet empathetic the ghosts were. The archaeology parts were a lot of fun for me, and, on the whole, I had a good time reading The Falling Woman.
Read: September 23, 2014