The Visitant – Kathleen O’Neal Gear & W. Michael Gear

About the book

At the Dawn of the Age of the Katsinas…

A woman runs away in search of a Spirit Helper and never returns…

An ancient village is swept into a shattering crime beyond reason, beyond belief…

An old man must learn to walk the dark labyrinth of a murderer’s mind to find him before he can strike again…

A young war chief must enter the mesmerizing word of the insane if he to save everything and everyone he loves…

And, a scant moment ahead in geologic time, world-renowned Canadian physical anthropologist Dr. Maureen Coles finds herself excavating a mass grave in New Mexico filled with the brutalized bodies of women and children.

From the internationally bestselling authors of People of the Maskscomes a novel of terrifying power about madness and murder eight hundred years ago.

512 pages (paperback)
Published on: June 15, 2000
Published by: Tor


I’m actually from the east coast. My family moved out to Utah when I was younger because my dad found a good job out here. I’ve moved out of state a few times since then, but I ended up back here because tuition was cheap. Then I got married and had a kid and here we are. This isn’t permanent. We will move out of state sometime, hopefully sooner rather than later. The truth is, I miss trees and rain, and living somewhere with a bit more culture.  I’m not a desert child. The summers kill me. The winters are far too long and the only decent season out here is the three weeks on either side of summer and winter where the state is actually the proper temperature to be enjoyable without killing you with extreme weather.

When we first moved out here my parents took us on tons of cultural vacations. There’s a lot of stuff to see in Utah and the surrounding area. This state, regardless of how horrible the temperatures can be, has some beautiful scenery. There are lots and lots of piles of rocks you could spend a lifetime hiking around. I’m not that into rocks, but what I loved were our vacations to Mesa Verde. Mesa Verde is absolutely amazing. It’s sort of down in the Four Corners area, on the Colorado side of things. You could spend forever there looking at all the Anasazi cliff dwellings. It’s amazing to hike around these ruins and imagine people living there, raising kids, growing old. Then, mysteriously, the Anasazi moved out of the Mesa Verde area and set up camp in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. I’ve never been there, but I think that’s probably my next vacation destination, largely thanks to this book.

The Visitant brought all sorts of family vacation memories to my mind. It reminded me of all the times I’d hiked through the ruins of Mesa Verde and imagined all the people who had worn those same rocks smooth hundreds of years ago. That’s part of the power of the book. It takes people back in time to revisit portions of their own lives, and back to the time of the Anasazi.

The Visitant is told from two different periods of time. There is the modern day story, centering around the archeologist Dusty and his crew as they unearth bones which tell a mysterious story. There’s also the ancient past involving the war chief Browser and his warrior Catkin. Their perspectives basically tell the reader how the bones got to be where they were. These two very different perspectives work together to unravel a very absorbing mystery. Furthermore, they show the reader how archeologists probably view a site (I’m not an archeologist so I can’t say how accurate this book is in that respect) and how the ancient peoples may have worked to solve a mystery without any technology, and explained certain things, like madness.

This book is only loosely based on any sort of fantasy. In fact, it works better in the historical fiction genre, in my opinion. However, it also could satisfy the needs of readers craving some sort of fantasy. While everything that happens has real-world, non-fantasy explanations, the Anasazi had some beliefs which are quite common in fantasy books. For example, they believed in multiple gods (common in fantasy books), witches who change shape (a very fantasy idea), spirits can take over bodies (another fantasy idea). The Visitant also mentions some easily bad (prophetic-type) dreams and potential hauntings. While these were actual beliefs they do parallel some common ideas you can read about in fantasy books and thus, satisfy the speculative fiction itch some readers might have.

The Gear team did some amazing research when writing The Visitant. This book does a great job at keeping readers entertained and guessing while educating them on ancient Anasazi culture. The Visitant takes place in a rather chaotic period of Anasazi history. The climate was changing and the vast Anasazi network of tribes were scattering and losing much of what made them so powerful. There was a wide array of wars and infighting. Tribes were scattered and wandering. Food was hard to come by and their culture was basically being lost. This chaotic period of time is an incredible backdrop for a very memorable mystery. The Gear’s drop in plenty of historical facts and important information, but they never quite manage to infodump. All of the information readers will glean from the book is subtly woven into the story. Catkin and Browser, as well as their tribe, show the readers how the average Anasazi would handle such a volatile period in their history.

In modern times, physical anthropologist Dr. Maureen Cole and Dusty stumble upon a mass grave and work together to find out what the bodies are telling them about the events that transpired back in Browser’s time. This portion of the book was far less compelling than the ancient portions of the book. The modern tale seems to only partially center on science, and while it is fascinating to see how two very diverging periods of time would look at the same mystery, it seems as though most of the modern portions were about developing relationships more than anything else. The relationship that is forming in these modern times is incredibly obvious and very cliché. The modern parts of The Visitant would have been far more interesting and compelling if the authors had ditched the personal overblown drama and far exaggerated budding relationship and just focused on the science.

My last nagging complaint will be very hard for me to put into a review due to spoilers. I will keep it brief and say that, while the mystery is solved and the book has a very satisfying ending, the authors left out certain important details which I missed. There was a distinct lack of information with the solving of this mystery which really strained my ability to believe in the clean, nicely tied ending.

At the end of the day, The Visitant is an absolutely fascinating tale of life with the ancient Anasazi in the Chaco Canyon area. The Gear’s work together to create a rich, vibrant world filled with very memorable characters. Readers will not only learn a lot, but gain a huge appreciation for the ancient peoples and life back in those times. While the modern portions of the book are sorely lacking compared to the ancient portions, they are still entertaining. It is very interesting to see how two very different people from two very different time periods would treat the same mystery. The Visitant is a solid first book in a trilogy that is sure to please fantasy and historical fiction readers alike.

4/5 stars

One Responses

  • Sherry Dickens

    A very complete summary of this book, I hope you don’t mind but I’m using your summary as a precursor to our book club discussion on this book. 🙂

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