The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk
Maya is 98 years old. She was born in 1950 and was a Love Child in the 1960’s. She traveled the world and finally settled in San Francisco. In the early 21st century the California ecosystem and government fell apart. Southern California came under martial law, the Moral Right, and the Stewards. But in 2028 San Francisco residents instead had a nonviolent uprising, the Stewards left, and the population created a new utopia of sorts, based on nonviolence, environmental preservation, and communal living. Twenty years later San Francisco is now a polyglot of cultures and religions melded together, with earth, wind, fire, and water being the four sacred pillars of their civilization. The fifth is the spirit.
Maya’s grandson, Bird, disappeared in the south 10 years earlier. Her “granddaughter” is a Healer. Madrone is able to not only use her wisdom and the herbs available, but is able to pull an inner spirit or magic into her work, helping identify an illness and cure the patient. The population is having another epidemic. They’re not certain if it is a natural virus, mutated virus, or manufactured by the Stewards. Although they have lived secluded in the Bay area for the past 20 years, the presence in the south is felt. Madrone is kept busy healing, or losing, friends and neighbors to this fever virus.
Bird is able to escape from prison and slowly makes his way back north through the dry, wild lands to his home. When he finally reaches there, Bird is able to tell them what is happening in the south. The “outsiders” in the wild lands need a Healer as they resist and harrass the Stewards who control the City of Angels area. Those who control the water and the drugs are wealthy and overbearing. The others within the City are controlled by drugs and water supply. But more is needed. There is an invasion being planned to reach up to the people in the Bay area. War is once again coming.
Starhawk has written a sweeping novel of America’s near future. She is an environmentalist, feminist, peace activist, and Free Ager. These themes are constant and strong throughout The Fifth Sacred Thing. The novel focuses on the characters of Maya, Bird, and Madrone. It also focuses on the need to care for our resources, nonviolence, and some violent solutions to antagonistic problems. This is a novel about people and the Earth.
The writing draws the reader in and keeps her/him. The characters are strong. The book often gets preachy but is not self aggrandizing. It gives a scary possible look at our future here in the United States along the California coast. The occasional glimpses of the rest of the world hint at similar world wide problems. At the same time, Starhawk has offered solutions to many environmental problems.
If you are offended by free sex, parts of The Fifth Sacred Thing will be disturbing. Starhawk’s vision of the communal life includes the sharing of sex with anyone (under proper, loving conditions) either as a couple or as a group. Violence is also an integral part of this novel and is descriptive enough to keep the reader chilled. If you are a strong believer in your religious values and system, parts of this novel will be disturbing. The Moral Right that rules the southern part of California has taken a skewed, narrow version of Christianity to the extremes, along the lines of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. In fact, I can see how these two novels complement each other, with this one being on the outside of the community and Atwood’s book being on the inside of the community.
The Fifth Sacred Thing is a strong warning novel that is a good read. But it isn’t for everyone.
Notice: Graphic violence, Strong sexual content