I’m not going to beat around the bush with this one: Michelle Paver is, without doubt, one of the best 8-12s adventure fantasy writer out there today (according to Moontrug…). She kicked off with her fantastic Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series which follows Torak’s battle with Wolf and Renn against the deadly Soul Eaters (go 2min 52secs into this clip to hear Moontrug chatting about Wolf Brother at the Bath Literature Festival). And now Paver is onto a brand new series: Gods & Warriors, set in the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece.
12-year-old Hylas is an Outsider, born to unknown parents beyond the safety of the village gates. He lives in the mountains tending goats with his sister, Issy. But all that changes the day the Crows arrive. Separated from his beloved sister and hounded off the mountain side by the Crows, Hylas is on the run. All he cares about is finding Issy but before long Hylas has to contend with a runaway Priestess, Pirra, a dying man with a mysterious last wish and a best friend who, it emerges, is in league with the Crows. Hylas’ journey takes him across the seas, helped by the wonderful dolphin, Spirit, to the island of the Finn people. Like Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, The Outsiders is steeped in an elemental magic – the Sea (the Black Beneath), the earth (The Earth Shaker) – which is raw, real and above all, wild… For Paver, magic isn’t about wizards and wands; it’s about the natural magic in our every day world where certain animals signify good omens and others (The Angry Ones) bring bad luck. Paver’s magic feels very real; in fact it’s so convincing you actually feel the power of the Goddess and the strength of the Black Beneath.
There are three things Paver does extremely well (which is why she has such a huge following). Firstly, she creates characters you really feel for. Hylas is an outsider, much like Torak, in Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. Within pages he wins you over – with his tough independence, his loyalty to his sister and his determination to survive. His unlikely friendship with Telamon, son of a Keftian chief, is brilliantly and painfully presented, and his growing respect for the seemingly useless Pirra is realistically told. Secondly, Paver describes action scenes with incredible skill and pace. Whether Torak’s fighting off a shark or dodging the sinister Crows, Paver’s writing is ALIVE with its short sentences, dramatic verbs and original imagery. And lastly, she depicts the best animal-human bonds ever. Think Lyra and Pantalaimon (Northern Lights) or Albert and Joey (War Horse). In Chronicles of Ancient Darkness we have Torak befriending an abandoned, weakened wolf cub and then in The Outsiders we have Hylas’ unexpected bond with Spirit, an intuitive dolphin desperate to befriend Hylas. Paver captures Hylas’ initial fear and wariness of Spirit and then their growing understanding of each other. Spirit’s underwater world of clicks and whistles suddenly comes alive to Hylas and he learns to trust and understand the dolphin.
In Moontrug’s best dreams she is bursting out of the ocean with a dolphin or racing over mountain tops with a snow leopard and reading Paver’s The Outsiders was like reliving one of those dreams. It’s children’s writing at its very best. The research Paver does in the run up to writing means that her world is completely real. Before writing Spirit into the story, Paver swam with wild dolphins off the islands of the Azores (near Portugal) – so it’s small wonder that the reader is sucked into Spirit’s underwater world from the very first pages. Thankfully Paver is writing quickly and the second book in the series is already out: The Burning Shadow. And Hylas is not alone in his quest to find Issy: there’s a lion by his side… Moontrug cannot wait to buy this next book and in the meantime, both Wolf Brother and The Outsiders are stacked up nicely on Moontrug’s Altocumulus Tower.