The Walk of the Wandering Man by Ric Szabo is an epic story of humanity that starts 5000 years ago in the harsh environment of Central Europe. The story begins with the intertwining of the fates of a young boy called Konli, and a young man, Vratu, a Mesolithic hunter, brought together by tragedy. When Vratu is sent on his rite of passage, to walk with the Earth Spirit, he has no idea what the gods have in store for him, and how his quest will bring him manhood, pain, suffering, joy, and ultimately love. He knows treachery and killing, finds his conscience and learns compassion, and discovers a moral certainty to do what is right. Who is the mysterious boy with the strange tattoo, and the intriguing necklace? Why has Vratu been chosen to protect him?
Fans of Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series will absolutely love this book. The plot is complex in that it encompasses the lives and deeds of a number of characters and their clans. The reader embarks on a journey with Vratu that informs as it entertains. The age of the hunter-gatherer was ending as the farmers began to assert their right to land. Clashes and killings, and some degree of xenophobia were inevitable as the fight over resources raged. Alliances are formed, then broken, then remade in an intricate story line. The reader who enjoys prehistory and its detail will be impressed, as I was, at the meticulous research done to bring the epoch to life. The author writes in a lyrical style that is appropriate for the genre, slightly archaic but most pleasing to read. A modern author voice would not have worked, and Szabo gets it just right.
I enjoyed the descriptions which are vivid and immersive; indeed, readers find themselves thrust right into the action, be it fighting to survive the elements or in the midst of battle. The story takes the reader back in time most amazingly. One wonders how early man managed to survive, how they learned to create tools, to make clothing, shelter, medicines, all the things that the modern reader wouldn’t give a second thought. Social constructs and mores, traditions, customs, and laws are explained by seamlessly integrating them into the plot. The themes of spirituality and worship, and the place of nature in emerging society’s ethos are clear. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace, although the prologue starts with action and mystery, and death. This is an epic adventure and one that belongs not only to Vratu, but to the communities he encounters and the people he calls his friends and companions. A thought-provoking, instructive, and extremely enjoyable read.