Review : ‘Elatsoe’ by Darcie Little Badger, Illustrations by Rovina Cai

Prachi Pati

*CONTENT WARNING: DEATH, XENOPHOBIA, SOME TORTURE AND GORE, MURDER.*

Isn’t it great when you discover a book that is under hyped or was never on your radar and you just happened to stumble upon it and it made you really happy? Which is one such book you stumbled upon recently and loved and would recommend to everyone? Elatsoe, written by Darcie Little Badger, was one such book for me.

Elatsoe is a story written by #Ownvoices author Darcie Little Badger about a seventeen-year-old-girl named Elatsoe, or Ellie. Ellie belongs to the Lipan Apache community and lives with her family in an America where humans and supernatural beings co-exist. I was instantly attracted to this world since it had a very X-Men like setting. Like X-Men, there are people who use their abilities for good and then there are those with abilities used to harm others. For instance, Ellie can raise the dead, and she uses her power to resurrect the ghost of her dead dog, Kirby, who was her best friend when alive, instead of resurrecting an army of dead to create havoc. But then there are also vampires and fae, and evil ghosts, amongst other supernatural beings inhabiting this world, who use their powers to dominate, create trouble, and hurt other people.

Ellie’s adventure begins when a seemingly innocent yet tragic accident claims the life of her beloved cousin. However, she is visited by her cousin’s ghost with a call for justice. He gives away the name of his murderer, who is a highly respected member of their community. She has to find out why his death was made to look like an accident and why this person killed her cousin. Ellie eventually uncovers the mystery behind her cousin’s murder, with the help of her trusted ghost dog, Kirby, her friend Jay, and a little help from her family and friends. 

It’s absolutely ingenious on the author’s part to weave a fantasy-based murder mystery with an underlying story that draws reference to the suffering of indigenous communities such as the Lipan Apache by the hands of settlers. Throughout the story, Darcie Little Badger gives her readers small but important insights to her culture. The story is sprinkled with cultural references such as the food they eat – breakfast of Migas, their funeral rituals – where Trevor has a closed-casket funeral service and is later buried at a sacred place with his most personal belongings, their beliefs where life lessons are passed on via folk stories, or the fact that they respect their animals and nature.

There is a scene in the story where the author cleverly uses a common myth about vampires to talk about the fact that many Lipan Apache communities were forcefully evicted from their lands by settlers. When attacked by a vampire on the road, Ellie’s mother shouts “You are not welcome here! This is our home!” The vampire laughs at first, because they’re out in the open, but is shocked to see himself fade away. The reason the vampire disappears is because the entire land originally belonged to the Lipan Apache tribe. 

The illustrations on the first page of each new chapter tell us a parallel story, about Ellie’s great-great grandmother and her adventures, who also had the power to resurrect the dead, especially animals and Ellie was one of the few descendants who has inherited her powers. Ellie’s great grandmother, also referred to as Six-Great is a legend amongst her tribe, who uses her powers of being able to talk to the dead and help people in need. Every time Ellie finds herself in a difficult situation in the story, she remembers Six-Great’s courage and uses ideas from the stories she has heard to save herself from the situation, such as raising a dead Mammoth to fight a strong vampire.

There are quite a lot of characters in the story, but they all stay with you. My favorite characters however were Ellie, Kirby and Jay. All three of them are amazing together. Jay and Ellie have this inherent understanding of each other based on mutual trust and respect which makes their friendship and partnership seem effortless. I also loved the fact that Ellie’s asexuality is openly accepted and she doesn’t have to worry about coming out or explaining herself. When will we have that in our world, I wonder? Soon, I hope.

To conclude, I thought this was a book both for adults and children, even though it has been marked as middle grade. The author and this book have been nominated for multiple awards such as TIME’s Best 100 Fantasy Books of All Times, NPR Best book 2020, AICL Best YA book of 2020, among many others. This story crossed many genres and themes and I enjoyed reading Darcy Little Badger’s own voices story with her dry and dark humour. Yes, it is a fantasy, yes, it is a murder mystery, yes it is a thriller, but at the heart of it, the story is about the forceful usurpation of land belonging to a community, where things are only taken and nothing is ever given back in return. If you’re looking for books with diverse or #OwnVoices or asexual representation in the fantasy genre, this is the book for you.

Elatsoe is published by Levine Querido and distributed by Chronicle Books, available now: https://www.chroniclebooks.com/products/elatsoe?_pos=1&_sid=92a197946&_ss=r.


About the Author

Prachi (she/her) has a day job as a Business Analyst in IT, but dabbles at being a writer and a blogger by night. She loves reading all kinds of books but her favourite genre is Fantasy. She keeps finding herself in her parallel universes though. She is a mother to a wonderful little girl and loves to spend her free time reading, writing, dancing and travelling when she can. She currently lives and works in Pune, India. She has a BE in Telecommunications from India and an MBA from Macquarie University, Sydney and aspires to be a writer.

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