teen

Review: The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott.

Review: The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott.

The Good HAwk

Extract:

She’s right, it is the Fourth. It’s the one chime we are taught to listen out for. All of the fourths – from all around the wall – are being struck over and over again; I’ve never heard them all ringing at the same time before. 

(The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott. P81.) 

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Synopsis:

Agatha is a hawk. It is her job to patrol the sea wall to protect the boats on the water. When she makes a big mistake, and people question her right to be there, she determines to prove that she is capable of doing her job.

Jamie has been made an Angler against his wishes. He is afraid of the sea, afraid of the boats, and not at all happy about his arranged marriage to a girl from another clan.

When the clan us attacked and the survivors taken prisoner, Jamie and Agatha escape together. They come up with a plan to help their clan but first they must travel through the deserted mainland – a country decimated years ago by dark shadows and terrible magic.

Jamie and Agatha learn all sorts about themselves along the way, but they are not the only ones with secrets.

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Review:

Enter an Ancient Scotland ravaged by plague and dark shadows. Jamie is filled with anxiety about his future. Agatha has Down’s Syndrome and is fed-up of other people underestimating her abilities. When their clan is betrayed in a brutal scene (think demons who rip the heads straight off their quarry), Jamie and Agatha team up to rescue the survivors who were imprisoned and taken away on boats. Together they travel across the land and meet other people including a tribe of bull-herders who are interested in Agatha’s incredible empathy with animals.

With high stakes and an intriguing setting, this makes for a strong adventure.

This is a book with strong characters. Agatha and Jamie share the narration and it is impossible not to want to know what happens to them later down the line. It is a sign of a good character when you care as much about whether they get what they originally wanted (ie Agatha wants to return to her job as a sea hawk) than about whether they sort the massive obstacles in their lives (you know, like those terrifying shadow demons). Think Moana. Who cares whether she beats the coconut pirate things when we so badly want her to accept her inner-Voyager. The Good Hawk is definitely one of those stories. The adventure was strong but I cared especially about Agatha and Jamie who felt so very real.

Ancient Scotland is a fascinating and underexplored setting. Many readers have been excited to see a book for young people set in the world of clans. There has been a middle grade series in the USA and a couple of children’s films, but aside from those the first story to come to mind is by Rosemary Sutcliff and was published over 50 years ago. Joseph Elliot shows the beliefs and ways of life of different clans and tribes and this makes the world vivid and memorable.

Be warned: the attack scenes don’t shy away from detail. Think heads torn from bodies and characters we’ve connected with in grave peril. This doesn’t detract from the story and is used to make the action more real but some readers might prefer to know this in advance. 

With fantastic scenes and strong character building, The Good Hawk is set to be a talked-about adventure.

 

Thanks to Walker Books Ltd for my copy of The Good Hawk. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Whiteout by Gabriel Dylan

whiteout

Extract:

Something was out there, waiting. Something that had brought Hanna back here, after all she had been through. Something terrible. 

Hanna stole one last glance at the valley far below, then turned back towards the hotel, wondering if tonight she might finally learn answers to the questions that had haunted her for as far back as she could remember. 

(Whiteout by Gabriel Dylan. P63.) 

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Synopsis:

A group of young people is at a ski resort in the Alps. For Charlie it is an escape from a difficult home. For Tara it is a low-budget alternative to the life she thinks she deserves. To Hanna it is an income. When a storm cuts them off from the rest of the world, they realise there is more outside than wind and snow.

Then they find the blood and the massacre begins.

A quest to survive begins and the different personalities in the group clash as different people assert their own ideas. Who will survive and how will it change their lives?

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Review:

If you’ve enjoyed the recent spate of novels with Breakfast Club style casts such as Floored or One Of Us Is Lying, you’re in for a treat. Here we have the spoiled girl, the boy with a criminal past, the tough-cookie and a whole cast of strong personalities thrown into a story of mayhem and survival. There are monsters out there in the snow and they’re not afraid to feed on humans.

What made this book for me was the characters. Each character is so realistic that I felt as I had been introduced to living, breathing people. The tensions between the characters are real. Conflict and friction are created by the events which happen the characters’ different reactions. Most memorable to me was ‘bad boy’ Charlie who is more responsible and reflective than many of his peers. The book never resorts to stereotypes but shows that we are deeper than the image we like to project.

In terms of horror – there is blood. There are monsters which feast on human flesh. You can be certain there is a certain level of gore. It never felt overdone. As someone who prefers subtle, folksy horror, I thought this would be a departure from my comfort zone, but the action is well-paced and there is a big emphasis on the people thrust into that situation. Be warned though: the body count is high.

The climax is haunting and it will fill you with adrenaline. Secrets have been kept in the mountains and horror has thrived.

Instead of pinning down what the horror is early and categorising it (zombie-attack, vampire plague …) there is a strong sense of the unknown and the unknowable. This keeps the tension up and we ask those questions alongside the characters. A gripping story and an author I will look out for in the future.

 

Thanks to Stripes Publishing for my gifted copy of Whiteout. Opinions my own.

 

   

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge

twistedtree

Synopsis: 

Martha knows there are secrets in her family and she is also able to learn things about a person’s past by brushing their clothes. Martha travels to Skjebne in Norway after rising concerns about her grandmother. She finds Mormor dead and a strange boy hiding inside the cabin.

As things grow increasingly spooky, Martha learns about the skeletons in the family closet and the secrets of the twisted tree in the garden.BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Review:

An atmospheric and folksy thriller set against the Norwegian climate. Think gnarled tree branches and sharp claws and souls threatening to engulf the earth.

I read this story very quickly on a dark winter’s evening. It sounds like a cliché but it really is one of those books which demands that you get cozy and see the tale through. Rachel Burge’s descriptive writing is so strong that you can almost feel the cold Norweigan air as you read her sentences. If you enjoy books which hook you on setting alone, this one is for you.

There is a sense that Martha’s life is stagnant. She hasn’t moved on from the accident which left her blind in one eye, while her mother has never embraced the family secrets. As the story opens there is a sense that something has to shift. I love how Martha unpicks things and then embraces the changes which need to happen.

This is in many ways a story about trauma-recovery. Martha is still haunted by the events of her accident and the scars on her face are a daily reminder of what happened. She is acutely aware of people’s reactions to her face and builds a new sense of self based partly on those reactions. Martha’s is fascinated with her scars, and she divides her life into pre and post-trauma as if her accident is a turning point. These observations about trauma recovery show that the character was well developed. Real human beings are not a set of traits – they are also about reactions.  

The tree itself is almost a character. Without any spoilers, it is centuries old and it is at the heart of the story. I always enjoy stories based on folklore and mythology, and I loved the backstory about the tree.

This is the perfect story for the dark nights which will come before spring and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys thrillers which are atmospheric rather than gory. A beautiful and haunting tale.