Corvus is a novel that repays the reader’s persistence. Its setting is eighty years in the future, during a time of uneasy peace after a period of war, caused in turn by ecological disasters that have moved populations north, which causes overcrowding. The wars, therefore, are primarily to protect territory and the technological bubble enjoyed by the wealthy. This futuristic setting may initially discourage some, but ultimate rewards make it worth reading on.
The fact the novel is set in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, and involves a First Nations community might also give one pause. Fortunately, it is not overly derivative nor an obvious political agenda thinly disguised as fiction. The theme does remind one of Thomas King’s The Back of a Turtle, which also features the tragic destruction of First Nations communities by corporate greed. As a rule, such corporations are represented by whites/“Europeans” or (in the case of King’s protagonist) by First Nations descendants who have lost touch with their origins.
At first, Corvus seems to justify reservations. First the raven appears, a familiar totem for the First Nations psyche, suggesting the book will claim the usual symbols in the usual ways. Then there is the focus on futuristic technology, such as a vehicle that is half bird, half machine. (It’s also a raven.) Those averse to science fiction might find this description especially long.
Whatever these initial difficulties, the book hooks the reader’s interest after the first few chapters. What Johnson does well is create engaging characters, especially male characters. First, there is George Taylor, a well-meaning fellow who finds being a prosecuting attorney an uncomfortable fit, since the role expects him to be safe and predictable. While he yearns for the kind of career success that will give him his own condo in the sky, it, like the ORV (organic recreational vehicle) described in the previous paragraph, also represents a kind of freedom.
George has a love interest in fellow prosecutor Lenore Hanson. She too is ambitious, but tormented by her war memories and looking for some kind of haven. It seems obvious George and Lenore might solve both their dilemmas by coming together.
However, as every good novelist knows, things should never be too easy, and life gets more complicated when George crashes his man-sized raven-mobile into a First Nations community and is exposed to a grassroots way of life. Meanwhile, Lenore encounters an attractive renegade named Richard Warner, who lives in an ashram not far from the city. Richard too is a war veteran, but one who challenges the values that create war, use technological inventions to oversee all human actions and attempt to control independent thought.
Richard too has a love interest, whom he treats with care and respect. Though Johnson’s female characters women aren’t quite as actualized as his males, he nonetheless manages to sidestep most of the usual clichés. In doing so, he exposes more humanity than prejudice and offers a satisfying climax and a kind of hope.
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