Ancient Enemy uses a historical mystery that have always fascinated me: The disappearance of the Anasazi Indians in the American Southwest. This mystery has been used before, most notably in The Haunted Mesa by Louis L'Amour. Yet very rarely did the ideas pan out in novels. Michael McBride uses the mystery of the Anasazi to set up his novel Ancient Enemy and ends up with a scary and tense horror tale full of Native-American mythology, Navajo traditions and one scary monster.
Sani Natonaba is a young Navajo-Ute man who takes care of his ailing grand-father and his alcoholic mother at his isolated ranch. He can barely eke out a living on their Navajo farmland. His sheep are being slaughtered by a creature or creatures that can go undetected by Sani's normal hunting skills. His grand-father may know what they are but due to his illness, Sani cannot communicate with him, at least not easily. What entails is a harrowing search and journey that puts Sani in touch with not only ancient mythology but with his own family's secret and tragic past.
This is a well written novel that is not only a literary horror story and a impressive use of history and legend but is also a skilled character study of a boy that is isolated from others and raised with deep conflicts in his tribal beliefs. It is no coincidence that the author made him half Navajo and half Ute. Those two tribes have a violent history of conflict with each other and any boy with that lineage would have to deal with issues of alienation and displacement. Sani is not only placed in a life or death struggle for him and his family but also in a test of his own identity. It cannot be stressed enough how well McBride sets up Sani's feeling of aloneness. He cannot even communicate with his own family as his grand-father cannot speak and his mother is so deep in her alcoholism that she might as well not be able to speak. Ancient Enemy is narrated in first-person and the book has no dialog to speak of. So we are confronted with only Sani's viewpoint and observations. This makes the reader feel strongly for him and adds to the sense of aloneness.
But of course it is good to have an effective monster when writing a horror tale. McBride's creature is sufficiently terrifying and the discovery of the creature's history helps that sense of terror. Especially effective is Sani's journey into Lovecraftian styled caves and corridors as he investigates what is killing his herds and threatening his family. Yet I keep coming back to the character of Sani. This is the main strength of this novel and what makes this novel rise among many other books like it. Recommended.