Ember from the Sun

Mark Canter, Author
Mark Canter, Author Delacorte Press $22.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-385-31457-2
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A few years back, Canter, a journalist, dreamed up a great premise for his first novel: a Neanderthal alive in late-20th-century America. Problem is, two other writers have beaten him out--John Darnton in Neanderthal and Petru Popescu in Almost Adam. And Canter's story, despite its sincerity, has other problems. In it, a viable Neanderthal embryo is transplanted into a woman of the Quanoot tribe near Seattle. The child grows up as a golden-skinned girl, Ember, with powers of healing and empathy that convince some that she is Sisiutlqua, a powerful shaman. If the narrative were told entirely from Ember's viewpoint, her growing awareness of the physical and mental attributes that separate her from her peers might have generated a gripping tale. But Ember's voyage of self-knowledge begins with the discovery by paleoanthropologist Yute Nahadeh, in the Alaskan tundra, of the perfectly preserved Neanderthal woman who is Ember's original mother. Because Canter emphasizes the human rather than the scientific aspects of Ember's story, and for most of the tale keeps Ember from knowing she's Neanderthal, the narrative is disjointed. Yute and a major subplot about gold mining on tribal lands all but vanish after Ember's birth, only to reappear years later when the heroine seeks the secret of her origins. This leads to inconsistencies in Yute's character, which shifts from driven doctor to patient observer to crazed scientist. In essence, this story is a classic fairy tale in which an outcast child learns her true nature when she discovers that her real parents secreted her with commoners. But Canter's approach fails to do his premise, or his characters, particularly the appealing Ember, full justice. 100,000 first printing; major ad/promo; Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club selection; simultaneous BDD Audio; foreign rights sold in Britain, France, Sweden, Holland and Japan; author tour. (Oct.)
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