This unique and quick fantasy feels like you’re reading a modern day folktale set in the Pacific Northwest. The gods—Old Man Above and First Female—are observing humankind in the forests of Cascadia and have noticed that there seems to be something wrong with them. Humans aren’t acting the way they should, they are being cruel and violent to other humans and animals. Thinking that they somehow got their creation songs wrong, First Female creates a spirit—also named Cascadia—to investigate, and gifted with a flying bear from Old Man Above as well as invisibility and ironic t-shirts she can’t read, sends her to the woods to find out if humankind can be saved. Cascadia is plain though, having no concept of emotion and not being weathered by any kind of life experience, she’s just… unremarkable and therefore ill-equipped to answer the question that First Female has sent her to get an answer for. To help Cascadia, they give her a few tutors in the form of goddesses that teach Cascadia the ways of lust, justice/anger, and hope along with a few men of legend to teach her how to use certain weapons and defend herself. Along with her human familiar Shaylee—a logger with one very clever horse named Blue—Cascadia starts her mission to find out what’s wrong with the entire human race based on just the ill-doings of a few groups in the forest.
I really loved the author’s writing style. Myers does a wonderful job of crafting fun characters and unique personalities that all feel distinct from each other with just enough of a backstory where none of the characters, even the minor ones, feel like card-board cut outs. Even the animals in the book have their own personalities—I loved that Blue, a horse, and Silver Tip, a flying bear, ended up being unlikely best friends. The style of this book was interesting as well, as it feels like a real folktale, despite the cameos made by other mythological characters such as Helen of Troy/Aphrodite and actual historical figures like Jim Bowie. I really liked the small snippets of historical fiction that made it into this fantasy novel as it made everything feel a bit more grounded and, again, made the overall presentation unique to the fantasy genre as a whole.
But there were a lot of cameos and if you aren’t a history or mythology buff, sometimes those characters can go right over your head. Also, because Cascadia is learning to be human and how they function, she’s not the most interesting of protagonists. Shaylee was much more interesting and I wish we could have gotten more with her and Cascadia and Blake rather than so much of Cascadia being tutored by certain goddesses and historical figures. It was unique, yes, but given the book is pretty short, those sections tended to slow the pacing down and kept me, personally, from connecting more with the characters I wanted to.
Additionally, it always seemed a bit odd that Old Man Above and First Female—who are presented as gods of the entire world—only seemed to focus on this small patch of the earth and judged all of humankind by what was happening there. While some situations certainly apply to a larger population, such as sexual assault, some scenarios are unique to places like Cascadia, such as bear gall bladder smuggling. Of all the ills that people enact against each other and animals, it felt a little odd that the gods cared so much about just what was happening in this one region. While I understand why the author wrote it this way, I personally had a hard time suspending that disbelief. Oddly enough, I didn’t have that problem with a fairy goddess who spoke only in rhyme, go figure.
There are a few instances of language, mature situations and topics, and violence, so this book is definitely NOT for children, despite its folktale vibe. The language and the violence, and even the sex, aren’t overly graphic though, so a mature young adult reader would probably be fine with this as long as they enjoy this kind of mash-up fantasy story. And while I really liked how the author wrote, and am definitely intrigued enough by Myers style to check out her other books, I just never fell in love with the characters in “The Slightly Altered History of Cascadia.” That could be because of its length not giving me enough time with characters like Shaylee, or how out there some of the characters/creatures are, but I just never got that invested in any of their lives and I never was all that worried about the outcome of Cascadia’s tasks, even though I probably should have been. There’s nothing wrong with the characters or the plot/setting of the book, everything gets wrapped up nicely leaving no loose ends. I just never got all that swept up in it. However, I think a lot of people would have more fun with it then I did, and for that, I’m giving this 3.75 stars but am definitely rounding up, and look forward to reading more from this author. And thanks to the author for providing me a copy for review!
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