So hard to review a book that I loved so much as a teenager, and still read through rose-coloured glasses. And again with the crossover - although this reads very much like high fantasy, and that's what you'd probably think it was from the blurb, it's really a far-future post-apocalyptic sci-fi.
It's also super-typical seventies feminist fiction (for both the good and the bad that brings).
Snake, the protagonist, is a healer, using a curious mixture of what at first glance seems like shamanistic snake charming, and to this end she has a small collection of snakes that she carries with her as she wanders around looking for patients. Humanity now resides either in huge domed cities full of high tech, or, like Snake, outside in small tribal familial groups -- and they are not welcome in the cities. When Snake loses one of her snakes, the one that's actually an alien creature, and doesn't breed properly on earth, it's a big problem, because without them she can't do her job. She resolves to fix the problem by asking the city folk for help, and off she goes on a quest that ends up taking her somewhere else entirely.
As a 17 year old, I would have rated this book a million stars out of five. As an adult, I have to give it four. The pacing is insane, the last quarter of the book is utterly nuts (but fun!), and I can't really gloss over the instalovey romance thing like I did back then. But the romance is a very tiny part of this book, a handful of pages at most.
It's also a fast and easy read, with a strongly written woman as protagonist: Snake is self-reliant, sometimes to a fault, and she is utterly determined against overwhelming odds. She is also imperfect, she struggles with self-esteem issues after losing her beloved snake, she doesn't always read people well or know how to deal with them, and comes off a little naive. She just always picks herself up and keeps going though. I like Snake a lot, it's just about everyone else in the book I could give or take.
Somewhat interestingly given current puppy antics surrounding sci-fi, this book grabbed the hat-trick of the Hugo, Nebula and Locus (and it didn't stop there, it got tons of awards).
Also don't let the feminist slant put you off either. It's there, but in a very sci-fi way which is actually pretty fascinating and thought provoking.
I expect this isn't too easy to find these days, but if you ever notice that distinctive girl on the tiger pony cover in a used book store, you could do a lot worse than throwing a dollar or two at it.