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Goddess of the Mountain Harvest
Brenda Gates Smith
Onyx Books, 372 pages

Goddess of the Mountain Harvest
Brenda Gates Smith
A graduate of Portland State University, Brenda Gates Smith went to work for a radio station where she built an advertising portfolio with the use of local talent. She left the station to freelance, applying her writing skills to television and radio commercial work, but the inner call to write novels was unrelenting. After the birth of her second son, she made the decision to write full time on her manuscript. She lives with her husband and sons in rural Oregon. Secrets of the Ancient Goddess, a tale set in prehistoric Turkey, was her first novel.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Secrets of the Ancient Goddess
Review of Secrets of the Ancient Goddess
Review of Secrets of the Ancient Goddess

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Goddess of the Mountain Harvest is a sequel to Brenda Gates Smith's Secrets of the Ancient Goddess. As with her first novel, the story concentrates on the lives of two women destined to be high priestesses of a peaceful matriarchal agrarian society in prehistoric Turkey.

In order to be allowed to join this society, Yana, issued from a different tribe, has had to undergo a taxing initiation/rebirth, which has brought her spiritually closer to the nurturing/mothering aspect of the goddess worshipped by her adoptive people and has led to her candidacy for high priestess.

The native Henne has escaped from capture, enslavement, rape and life as wife of the brutal chief of a nomadic tribe of pillaging horsemen, in whom she tried to inculcate the peaceful ways of the goddess. She returns with a very practical hands-on understanding of the limitations of the passive/mothering aspects of the goddess, and the need for the active/huntress aspect to thrive amongst her people.

When the new chief of the horsemen vows to track Henne down and slaughter all her people, Yana and Henne, with their clashing views of their mission as priestess, must co-operate in order to save their people.

As in Secrets of the Ancient Goddess, Ms. Smith has paid attention to the anthropological details in presenting the early agrarian society of her heroines and the nomadic lifestyle of the horsemen who threaten them. While the writing is richer in terms of female symbolism and mysticism, it maintains the clear, uncomplicated narrative style that makes the story move forward nicely.

Goddess of the Mountain Harvest, as its predecessor, is a book that will find a greater readership amongst women than men, having an even greater preponderance of female main characters than Secrets of the Ancient Goddess. In the the earlier book, Eom, Yana's former spouse, Ralic, the horseman chief, and Tern, Yana's new love interest all had fairly important, if secondary, roles. However, in Goddess of the Mountain Harvest the men are reduced to rather minor roles. A large majority of the novel deals with the relationships between Yana, Henne, their goddess and (mostly) the female members of the tribe. While I mentioned in my review of Secrets of the Ancient Goddess that "background elements [...] hint ever so slightly of romance novel and soap opera plots," the lesser involvement of male characters in Goddess of the Mountain Harvest largely precluded me forming such an impression.

And now for my admittedly male-biased view of Goddess of the Mountain Harvest. The depiction of the agrarian society and its members interactions is heavily couched in strictly female symbolism (e.g. the womb, nourishing the suckling child, the cycle of the menses, etc.). Goddess of the Mountain Harvest is certainly rich in detail about the society it depicts, and while I can't honestly say that I ever found it uninteresting, it did tend to lack in sustained action and adventure. The only sustained danger (i.e. male aggression and violence), long known to be impending, only comes to fruition in the last 10 pages of the novel. Similarly, what sexual situations occur are all couched in loving, respectful relationships, lacking the sharpness and intensity of many of the situations portrayed in Secrets of the Ancient Goddess.

Goddess of the Mountain Harvest, while perhaps not geared for "male sensibilities" is, however, excellent in depicting the dichotomy of interpretation of the goddess figure by the two young women, Yana and Henne, and how each draws strength from her own understanding of their tribal spirituality. While one is spiritual and controlled, the other is practical, headstrong and impulsive, leading them to be at loggerheads at times, but to have a synergistic strength when working towards the same goal. Whether this predominant theme satisfies you or leaves you wishing for a smidgen less gyno-centrism is yours to discover.

Copyright © 2000 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

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