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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Stories on Saturdays: Wolf Brother

Title: Wolf Brother
Author: Michelle Paver
Publisher: Orion
Published: 2004
Genre: Children's Fantasy

Find it at Amazon UK

The Blurb says...
Torak is alone ... wounded, terrified, and on the run. An outcast like his father, he has avoided all contact with the clans. But now his father lies dead: slaughtered by a demon in the form of a great bear.

Somehow, Torak must keep going.
His only ally is an orphaned wolf cub ...

WOLF BROTHER carries you back thousands of years to the ancient darkness of the Forest: to a world steeped in natural magic and elemental terror, a world in which trusting a friend means risking your life.


My verdict: a rollicking adventure that had me emotionally invested in the characters from the beginning (highly recommended for adventure lovers of 9+)
This novel plunges you in with Torak and his critically-injured father on the first page. Immediately, you are drawn into empathising with the young protagonist who has so much growing to do - prematurely and urgently under dangerous circumstances. I've seen advice not to start a story in such a high stakes scene, as the reader needs to care about your hero first, but this was one rule Paver shrugged aside without a problem. I absolutely cared about Torak and what was going to happen to him from the first page.

Characterisation is (clearly!) highly effective and a key part of this book's magic, but another strength lies in the world building. This is a complex society, very different to our own, which Paver conveys effortlessly. I particularly enjoyed the passages told from the wolf's point of view, in which a simplified language is used in places, e.g. "the fast wet" is a threatening rush of water - a flood or a strong river. This evoked both the environment itself and the wolf's feelings about it beautifully.

The plot itself is also well-crafted and this is, essentially, a coming-of-age novel realised through a quest narrative. The stakes rise and Torak faces major losses as he discovers the secrets of his identity and destiny. Kids below 9 may enjoy this as a story to be read to them, but I probably wouldn't give it to a child under 9 to read for themselves: it might be too challenging emotionally as well as intellectually. There's enough to satisfy older readers too, and plenty to think about. I was also interested in the incredible amount of research that Paver has done for this series, and was impressed that there is a "Wolf Brother" display of related artefacts in the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. How's that for validation?

Overall, I really enjoyed this and will definitely be reading the others - once I can get that TBR pile down a bit!

This review is my fifth for the British Books Challenge, since Michelle Paver lives and works in the UK.

1 comment:

  1. My son is 10 and has read all her books. He's graduated to Tolkein now (I had that read to me at his age) How quickly they grow up these days


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