City of Refuge
Book Review By Betty Seaman

city of refuge cover

city of refuge cover

Title: City of Refuge

Author: Starhawk

Publishers: Califia Press

Where to Get It: Here!


Using permaculture and bravery to heal a torn society in a not-so-distant future.

I wanted to gift my husband a copy of Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing recently. I searched our local bookstore in the fiction aisle and was led to a much smaller section of the store labeled SCI-FI-FANTASY. “This can’t be right,” I said, (maybe even out loud in astonishment). While the story is a fictional account, it bears so much truth that calling it a fantasy did not make sense to me.

Similarly, Starhawk’s sequel to titled City of Refuge leans far into the realm of reality. In this book, the often dark and shocking, yet the beautiful sage of struggle of beloved characters Maya, Bird, Madrone, and others from The Fifth Sacred Thing return to us in their attempt to liberate the “Southlands” in the year 2048.

Personal parallels can be drawn by permaculturists, natural builders, and fringe dwellers alike, recognizing the all-too-familiar state of depletion of land and people in a depiction of a society run-amuck. Similar to our current times, we see the unbalanced wealth, lack of abundance, warped sexual expression, and humans who operate from a place of fear – the greatest weapon of an oppressive regime. If this sounds depressing, it is. And then, with precision, the author offers a glint of hope in the midst of a fouled situation, a moment of gratitude or kindness in face of a dire situation that cracks open wide the world of possibilities. Starhawk’s subtle references to rebuilding with cob in the -aftermath of disaster, or digging wartime foxholes so they would ultimately become swales or ponds in times of peace, are so appropriate that she neither “preaches to the choir” nor attempts to convert the sci-fi-fantasy reader. She has crafted a tale of the power found in kindness and gratitude, the truth in pain and magic, and the necessity to honor the four sacred elements: Air, Fire, Water and Earth, and the fifth sacred thing we know as Spirit. Starhawk has found that delicate balance in keeping a reader deeply engaged in story, while planting seeds of discovery that will indeed create a new world.

Betty Seaman is a natural building expert who teaches and lives in the mountains of Santa Barbara County.