Review: The Third People, by Lee Burton

The Third PeopleThe Third People by Lee Burton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lee Burton is a new author to me, one I came to, I must admit, because he is a Canadian writer, living and working in Newfoundland. He has garnered a few accolades in his time, most notably the Percy Janes First Novel Award, and a finalist in the Writers of the Future contest.

In his biography, it’s noted: Though his stories are diverse, they all revel in the music and harmony of words and celebrate imagination.

That statement is a bit of a curiosity to me, having now read his novella, The Third People, and perhaps that curiosity, better termed incredulity, lands directly around the words: the music and harmony of words. Music and harmony? Perhaps those artistic sensibilities are very much subjective, because to my taste there was only silence and void. I sound harsh, I realize, and I do apologize, because I know what it is to labour in solitude to craft a story, to hope someone will read the pages you slide out into the world. Even like the story.

Allow me to elaborate. The novella ostensibly deals with a tribe of pseudo-humans who are fighting for their lives against another tribe known only to them and the reader as the Third People. Why they are the third people is never explained, and thus the worldbuilding Burton undertakes is pretty much nonexistent. We know the tribe around whom the novella revolves are perhaps the first people. The tribes with whom they trade and sometimes intermarry are seemingly also first people, and the tribes go by totemic or animistic names such as the Bird People. So who are the Second People? Maybe I missed that.

We are given only few and fragmentary hints as to the physiology and nature of these people. Apparently some are hairy, a minute clue given in one description of hair to their eyes. We are given to understand this is very a patriarchal, even misogynistic society in which nubile females are hidden in caves to protect them from being stolen and bred by other tribes. But that clue is never fully drawn.

And there is an allusion to a society of perhaps werewolves or shapeshifters (the first people?) and vampires (the third people?). That latter is left in breadcrumbs referencing having to stake the third people through the heart with a wooden spear, of the victims of the third people having been torn limb from limb and blood slurped. But those hints are never clearly defined. So, again, the worldbuilding fails and leaves the reader unsure of exactly what’s going on.

There is also a power-struggle between one of the members of the hunting party and the chieftain, which is for the most part pretty standard good vs evil scenario, and utterly boring.

As to the environment of this place, there are even fewer hints. We are given to understand the sky changes from green to pink given time of day. There are apparently trees, even woodlands, flowing water, rocks. It is alluded the first people are hunter/gatherers. But are they? It’s never quite clear. They hunt a creature for meat known as a bounder. Is that an elk-type of creature, a deer, a moose? Kangaroos could be bounders. So, what is this bounder?

Character development, like the worldbuilding, is slight. The story is told through an unreliable narrator, the son of the chieftain (my term), and other than he being a loyal son and an indefatigable runner, soon to be united with a female of the Bird People, there’s nothing there. No personality. No quirks, or mannerisms that would make him lift from the pages and enter the reader’s mind. At this point, he was so utterly grey and flat I can’t even remember his name. That’s a pretty sad statement (perhaps of my own mental capacity) of the lack of development in this very, very short novella.

If I’m completely honest, the novella felt like an outline begging to be given the spark of creation.

However, as always, I encourage you to read The Third People for yourself. It’s always wise to gain your own perspective rather than rely upon that of someone else.

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