What We're Reading

What We’re Reading: Transcendence by Shay Savage

transcendenceEver since I read Transcendence by Shay Savage last month, I’ve been dying for my turn to come up to review here! If this book doesn’t meet our manifesto of looking for books that are different and push boundaries, I don’t know what does. Because, behold, this book is:

  • not just a time travel romance, but a CAVEMAN time travel romance
  • told almost in its entirety from the male POV (epilogue is in hers)
  • there’s little to no verbal dialogue
  • the male hero has no concept of language and is incapable of learning it

It’s also Exhibit A in the adage that you can break rules in fiction as long as it works. I mean, seriously, we’re told over and over to have dialogue. Dialogue is action. Dialogue moves the story forward. No dialogue in the first page is a no-no. Etc. Yet this book had no dialogue. And it worked. There are instances where a word is exchanged, but I wouldn’t call it dialogue. And in the bullet point I added the qualifier ‘verbal’ because there is a dialogue of sorts in body language, in just looking in the other person’s eyes and conveying intent and meaning.

Anyway, when I first heard about this book, I HAD to read it, because I’m like, really? How can she pull this off, and I just had to see if she did. And then when I read her author’s note in the beginning, I was even more intrigued and then also had that wow-I-so-totally-wish-I’d-thought-of-this-premise feeling. I was in awe of the author the whole time I read this book.

Here’s the blurb:

It’s said that women and men are from two different planets when it comes to communication, but how can they overcome the obstacles of prehistoric times when one of them simply doesn’t have the ability to comprehend language?

Ehd’s a caveman living on his own in a harsh wilderness. He’s strong and intelligent, but completely alone. When he finds a beautiful young woman in his pit trap, it’s obvious to him that she is meant to be his mate. He doesn’t know where she came from; she’s wearing some pretty odd clothing, and she makes a lot of noises with her mouth that give him a headache. Still, he’s determined to fulfill his purpose in life – provide for her, protect her, and put a baby in her.

Elizabeth doesn’t know where she is or exactly how she got there. She’s confused and distressed by her predicament, and there’s a caveman hauling her back to his cavehome. She’s not at all interested in Ehd’s primitive advances, and she just can’t seem to get him to listen. No matter what she tries, getting her point across to this primitive, but beautiful, man is a constant – and often hilarious – struggle.

With only each other for company, they must rely on one another to fight the dangers of the wild and prepare for the winter months. As they struggle to coexist, theirs becomes a love story that transcends language and time.

Thankfully, the author chose to write it in normal English and syntax, because obviously if he can’t learn language, he can’t be even using any words to describe his experiences, so even writing it in some made up caveman speak, like, “Me want to bed you,” wouldn’t be something he’d be capable of, and it would be awkward to read for a whole book in his POV. So instead, she writes in a first person present tense, which normally I’m not a fan of but totally makes sense for him, and in a very well-written prose. What makes it totally believable that it’s Ehd’s POV is his voice–the innocence and way he looks at the world, his pure emotions, his simplicity.

It also doesn’t follow a standard romance arc as far as plot points. In fact, there are some parts where the days blend together and there’s not a lot of Rising Action, but it fit, because this is his existence and how he sees things. Also just looking at the world through his eyes was compelling enough that I didn’t care that there was no Midpoint or Black Moment or any of that stuff. I’d also call it a love story instead of a romance.

I think one of the writing tools that helps drive it forward is the dramatic irony: we know she’s just dropped into his lap from the future, but he doesn’t and never will know where she came from. He just counts himself lucky and wants to make her his mate. We know why she’s freaking out and why she can’t do simple mate things like make a reed basket. It makes for some really funny as well as endearing moments in their interaction. I also think the book would have been completely different (and not in a good way) if it had alternated between POVs like a traditional romance. I liked not knowing what she was thinking and having to figure it out by her actions, just like Ehd.

As the blurb shares, it starts out with Ehd, a young “homo savage” as the author calls him, as it’s a completely made up kind of human who lacks the Broca’s area of the brain which allows us to understand the concept of language. (Can you see why this hit all my nerd buttons?) He’s the lone survivor of his tribe, and is barely making a go of it. Injured and weak from hunger, he manages to make a pit trap and capture an animal, but also shortly afterward finds our heroine inside. He’s like, ‘hey! a mate!’ and brings her back to his cave. Of course, she’s freaking the eff out, and he’s puzzled but just so so glad to have not only another human in his life, but a mate. And then he gets self conscious as he looks around his cave–maybe this is why she’s not acting happy? He has hardly any food stores and it’s rather shabby, but he hadn’t been expecting a mate to drop into his life, you know? But he did get in a good store of chopped wood and shows it off in his tour of her new home:

She looks out over the field away from the cave and up the cliff to the steppes but not at the wood. I’m disappointed that she doesn’t seem to like it because it really is the best I have to show her, but I push on, determined to impress her somehow. The rest of the day doesn’t go any better. I do not understand my mate.

Poor Ehd. He really doesn’t get her, but he tries. And OMG is he so sweet and endearing about it. I fell hard for this dude. Luckily, he doesn’t just knock her over the head and have his way with her–he wants her as his mate, but wants her willing. So he tries hard to please her, even though she makes him do weird things like bathe and clean his teeth. Here’s an early interaction, which I think is like the second day and one of the first times she’s not freaking out and has a meaningful interaction with him. She washes and combs out his hair, and then she lifts up his lips to look at this teeth (in preparation for brushing them), and here’s his reaction:

This I understand—she is checking to see how many teeth I have. At least with this, I am most impressive.

It’s interesting to analyze what made this such a powerful story for me. I think it has to do with what truly makes a relationship work. I’ve always maintained that a successful relationship is based on solid communication, but here, their “communication” is of the simplest, purest kind, and perhaps that’s what makes it work. Perhaps when we’re communicating, it’s cluttered too much by words and we’re not truly listening. Despite her oddities, Ehd loves Beh (he can’t pronounce ‘Elizabeth’ so calls her Beh) unconditionally and wholeheartedly. His emotions are raw and simple. And it’s fascinating. Perhaps it’s also the ultimate female fantasy: a man so completely devoted to you, he’ll do anything to please you. It also so beautifully captures what loneliness would truly be like and then to find someone who fills that void.

Here’s more snippets from Ehd:

In the darkness of the cave, there is a light inside her eyes that makes my heart beat faster. I know the emotions I see there are also reflected in my own gaze though I have never felt this way before. Beh softly repeats the same three sounds, followed by my name-sound.

And:

I don’t care if she ever makes a basket that can hold grain, but I want her to be here with me. I want her to be close to me as I work or fish, and I want her to lie next to me in the furs at night. In my mind, she is with me always and forever.

Finally, it’s clear to me that I want her for more than children.

This was my reaction upon completing this book:

And by blubbering mess, I mean the snotty, uncontrollable, heaving type of crying, and I’m not normally a cryer. I might get teared up, or even get a few to trickle down my cheeks, but not this… This was a beautiful story about Ehd and Beh’s life and their love for each other.

Intrigued? Have you read this book? What was your reaction? I’d looove to talk about Ehd! Hoh! 

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5 thoughts on “What We’re Reading: Transcendence by Shay Savage

  1. I really enjoyed this story. The male POV was very engaging and the author was able to develop the story and her characters with almost no dialog. I was surprised by how easily I was engrossed in the story.

  2. You’re so right….it was a beautiful love story and one of the best books I’ve ever read — strange but amazing. I’ve since gotten a co-worker to read it, and we go around work saying Hoh! all the time.

    The emotions conveyed were so simple, understated … primal. (I guess pun intended!) It stripped away all the baggage of what we see in a normal love story, and presented the essence of what it means to be in love.

    I can’t say enough about the book!

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