Middlegrade fantasy is my favourite thing to read at the moment. There are just so many great stories coming out in this category at the moment. One of the things I’m loving is the increasing amount of diversity I feel like we are seeing in stories for kids (or perhaps I’m paying more attention?). Joseph Elliot’s recent novel The Good Hawk, is a great example of middlegrade fiction that is about a young person with a disability, without being a story about that disability.
Agatha is a Hawk, brave and fierce, who protects her people by patrolling the high walls of their island home. She is proud of her job, though some in her clan whisper that it is meant to keep her out of the way because of the condition she was born with. Jaime, thoughtful and anxious, is an Angler, but he hates the sea. Worse, he’s been chosen for a duty that the clan hasn’t required for generations: to marry. The elders won’t say why they have promised him to a girl in a neighboring clan, but there are rumors of approaching danger.
When disaster strikes and the clan is kidnapped, it is up to Agatha and Jaime to travel across the haunted mainland of Scotia to Norveg, with help along the way from a clan of nomadic Highland bull riders and the many animals who are drawn to Agatha’s extraordinary gift of communication.
The Good Hawk is the first book in the Shadow Skye series, and I’m so pleased this is goingt to be a series because I can’t wait for more!
The story is set in a mythic version of Scotland which, for me, added to a kind of grand and spooky atmosphere created in the book – I could feel the mist and see the lochs, and it was fun to try and place the other locations they talked about too. Actually, I thought the world building in general was fantastic. I liked the way that people’s powers worked, and the way that the society was structured gave a great opportunity to explore the issue of figuring out where you fit in, which is one of my favourite themes in kids’ literature.
I mentioned above that the main character – Agatha has an intellectual disability, which is referred to but remains unnamed in the book. I loved that this was just part of her character rather than a big focus of the story. What we do see is that she tends to think differently from other people, and this is often a strength for her, rather than a weakness. I loved her development through the story – the way that she defies stereotypes and expectations others have of her.
Jaime’s arc is also wonderful. His uncertainty about where he belongs and what he is doing is at odds with others seem to see him, which I think is a great reminder that people who seem confident and capable might not feel that way inside, and is also a great contrast to Agatha’s confidence and boldness as their points of view alternate with the chapters. I also really liked contrast between them of Jaime’s uncertainty about fitting in coming from within, whereas Agatha knows she can do a great job but is dealing with other people thinking she doesn’t fit in.
The Good Hawk had my heart racing (and breaking!) at times, but that is balanced well with wonderful adventure and a decent amount of humour, to deliver a story that is really hopeful and fun at its heart.
The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliot
Out now from Walker Books
Source: I received a free advance copy from Walker Books (Thank you!)
Category: Middlegrade/upper primary (ages 9+) historical fantasy adventure
Themes: magic, friendship, power, revolution