Sometimes it’s hard to find the right book for your mood. This week I’ve tried a couple of crime thrillers and put them down after 30 or so pages. Next I started a literary novel translated from the Swedish and lasted five pages and a peek at the end. Sometimes – actually more often than not – if I’m not doing too well with a book, I read the ending and if I like that, I sort of skip backwards a bit. If I still like what I’m reading, I start again. This wasn’t the case with the dreary Swedish number. So I went to the bookshop and the library and I’m pleased to say I’ve read two books this week, one new and one old.
The new release is Song for a Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt. It was a gripping tale and I read it almost in the one go. One reason is that Julie Hunt’s world building is earthed and meticulous. I love maps in books – and I did sort of wish this book had one – but perhaps it wasn’t needed, for Peat’s journeying from the Overhang through all the different landscapes – the Escarpment, the farmlands, the marshes, the city of Rim, and the strange dream land by the sea where the Stiltman lived – were all so real that you could trudge along with her. Adding to the groundedness – and I suppose the roundedness as well! – was Julie’s insistence on attending to the physical aspects of the journey. Peat gets hungry, cold, and tired; she needs clothes and bedding and a shelter over her head; when her leg is broken and becomes infected, she needs healing from Marsh Auntie Edie’s herbs. There are lots of meals in this book; some sound yummy, but when she’s desperate, Peat eats raw fish and I could almost feel the slippery texture.
The other reason was – of course – the characters. The heroine, Peat, is plucky, smart and sensible ; the Marsh Aunties are a fantastic crew who reminded me, just a little, of Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Which and Mrs Who from A Wrinkle in Time; and then there’s the wonderful Stiltboy. I loved the way he spoke.
“Who are you?” I asked, although I thought I already knew. “Siltboy,” he answered. “I am his.” “Whose?” “Siltman’s. I am the Siltman’s boy.” “You are now, but you weren’t always.” “Truth,” he said. “Siltboy was the son of Pike. He knows the battle ways.” He reached into his bag and pulled out a slingshot. “How many years have you got?” he asked. I supposed he meant how old was I. “Nine.” “I’ve got nine hundred.” “Nine hundred! But you’re not even grown up!” Siltboy drew himself up to his full height, which brought him just under my chin. “Siltboy is grown,” he said. “He is strong in the legions and brave in the heart. In the old days he would have been a giant.”
Siltboy, like Peat, was stolen by the Siltman and enslaved as part of a supernatural bargain made by someone else. In Siltboy’s case, it was his father, Pike. I was so glad that he had a happy ending!
And I was especially charmed by the sleek, who would bite you as soon as look at you, but turned out to be a devoted and trustworthy guide.
And the cover is terrific, too. What a gorgeous sleek! Just look at its naughty little eyes. It’s rather like a squirrel, I think. On our Canadian travels we saw lots and lots of squirrels. I guess they’re common as rats over there, but it took a while for us to stop squealing with delight when we saw them. They had a way of running along like mad and then stopping still quite suddenly and freezing. “You can’t see me if I don’t move!”; was that what they were thinking?
I hope this is just the first story about Peat.
The library book was The Silver Donkey by Sonya Hartnett. I read it pretty much in one go, as well. It’s a novel for children with so much to offer adults as well; beautiful, lyrical writing and a moving story about courage and kindness. The descriptions of Monsieur Lieutenant trying to look after his soldiers in the muddy trenches of World War I France had me wiping away tears and remembering my grandfather who was gassed at Passchendale.
Children’s novels were absolutely right for my mood this week!