This riveting, spellbinding first novel is a total treat and features an important voice too often absent from writing for children.
Set in a vividly-realised, mythic Scotland, this novel grips from the first page. On the islands, clans are rigidly ruled, and young people are assigned to roles for life, regardless of their feelings on the matter. Agatha is a Hawk, a lookout, and longs to be a good one. Jaime is an Angler, which for someone who both fears the sea and suffers from anxiety, is not ideal. The two are thrown together when their clan is betrayed, abducted and taken away across the sea. With no one left in charge, the fate of the clan rests on the shoulders of this unpromising pair. Together they follow the abductors across the sea to the plague-ridden mainland, where dark magic and strange ways are rumoured to abound.
Agatha is loyal and brave, and always wants to do the right thing. Agatha also has Down’s syndrome, although this is never stated directly. I love the way her condition is portrayed, from the inside. When we feel her frustration and anger, rather than witness her meltdown, her reactions and behaviour are totally understandable. We identify with her strongly, and she is a wonderful, fully formed character, undoubtedly informed by Joseph Elliott’s considerable experience of and with children with additional needs. Jaime is equally strong as her counterpart. An over-thinker, he is no traditional hero. Like Agatha, he is forced by circumstance to find inner strength and resilience. His quest takes him on an emotional journey too, as by interacting with the people he meets in other lands, he begins to question the rigid belief system he has been brought up with.
There is so much to love here. Although there are dark moments, I think this would be a fantastic class book for mature Year 6 pupils and above. Teachers will need to read it before sharing with a class as there are scenes of violence and death, and discussions on sexuality, but as reading this book is such a pleasure, that’s no hardship.
The Good Hawk is the first in a trilogy featuring the characters, and I cannot wait to catch up with them again.
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