Daughter of Kura by Debra Austin
Daughter of Kura is a coming-of-age story set in southeastern Africa during prehistoric times. Snap's grandmother is the Mother of Kura, the leader of their ukoo. One day Snap will be the clan's Mother, but for now she is concerned with having to choose her winter mate for the first time.
At the end of the summer, the Kura women return to their village from their nomadic harvesting and men from other clans arrive in the hopes of being bonded to one of the Kura women for the winter. While the bonding is usually a cause for celebration, sadness prevails in Snap's kao after the unexpected death of her mother's usual mate. Whistle (Snap's mother) chooses a newcomer named Bapoto who is famed for his hunting skills, while Snap chooses a young long-walker named Ash.
While Snap and Ash seem to be a perfect match, there is tension in the kao. Bapoto has strange ideas and is constantly talking about the Great One. He encouraged the men to perform rituals before their hunts. He expects others to thank the Great One for any and all blessings and becomes upset with anyone who does not acquiesce to his request. He also begins to receive visions from the Great One, which only he can interpret. After the death of Snap's grandmother, Whistle becomes Mother and Bapoto the highest ranking male. In his new position Bapoto is able to exert much more control over the people of Kura. When Snap questions Bapoto one too many times, she must risk her life to be true to herself and her ukoo's traditions.
Daughter of Kura was very slow going for me at the start (this was confounded by the fact that the majority of the characters have sound names like rustle and warble making it difficult for me to keep the secondary characters straight), but once I got into the story, I found it very compelling. Despite the fact that Snap is in many ways very different from the reader, she is surprisingly sympathetic.
The world Austin imagines for Snap and the rest of the Kura is finely-wrought and her author's note serves to put it in context. Austin notes that "the geologic features, technologies, and social systems that form the structure of [the protagonist's] life are constructed from a combination of reasonably secure scientific facts, plausible theories, and wild (but not provably wrong) speculation" (303).