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Reviewed by Kimberlee J Benart for Readers' Favorite
Native Companions is the first book in the Dreamtime Mysteries by Jenni Barnett. This extraordinary historical tale is set in Australia and follows two timelines: modern-day Rex Graham, a mixed-race Indigenous anthropology student, and the stories about his Aboriginal grandmother’s people. Rex, who suffered in childhood from racism and bullying, inherited a high level of intuition. As he struggles to write a university thesis, he seeks inspiration at a sacred tree. The stories revealed to him aren’t a retelling of traditional myths or legends but fictional narratives inspired by Aboriginal culture. The narrative is divided into six “books” accompanied by illustrations. Story characters and their family and clan relationships are identified at the start of each book. A glossary of language and an index of character names is also included.
Having first read Book 2 in the Dreamtime Mysteries, I was eager to see how Book 1 compared. I wasn’t disappointed. While this book serves as a basis for the second, the two are easily read independently. The presentation of the mythical stories set in pre-European times within Rex’s storyline makes them a bridge between history and today. Barnett is a consummate storyteller who displays great respect for the people who inspire her creativity. The settings are vivid. While the family connections can seem complex at first, you’re quickly at ease with them as you immerse yourself in the well-paced, imaginative, and highly descriptive narrative. There is so much to appreciate in these wonderful fables. Whether you like all things Australian, Aboriginal culture, magic, myths, or just good historical fiction, Native Companions is an utterly enjoyable read.