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Review: Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

Published January 2018 ISBN 978141146077 paperback

Wow! what a wild adventure!

The story of Eska, Flint, Blu, Bala and the various tribes of Erkenwald as they battle against the evil plans of the Ice Queen kept me gripped during the ‘inbetween-time’of Christmas and New Year.
This is a story of finding your voice (both literally and metaphorically), settling into your tribe, navagating your way amongst the wild, dangerous threats in the frozen North.

Abi’s ‘Letter to the Reader’ prepared me for some concoction of two of my favourite Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen and The Little Mermaid, alongside shaman, icy kingdoms and determined children. Add into the mix an enchanted music box, a warrior-inventor and the bravery of desperation, this makes for an engrossing, emotional story. Abi did not disappoint!

Sky Song is set in the imaginary kingdom of Erkenwald, a far northern place where winters are long, frozen and dark and summers are short, light and not particularly warm. There are wild bears, rock giants, enchanted wolverines and persuasive eagles. And tribes: the Fur Tribe and the Feather Tribe, alongside the little-known Wanderers.

The fairy-tale style introduction quickly sets the scene: an evil Ice Queen has taken the adults from the Fur and Feather Tribes, capturing their voices in baubles on her trees in her icy palace. Winterfang Palace is deliciously eerie, where even the candles could be spies. The Ice Queen, in the tradition of Andersen’s Snow Queen, and Lewis’ White Witch/Queen Jadis, is tall, powerful and beautiful. With her magical black staff, dress made of her prisoners’ tears and her crown of snowflakes, she’s deliciously evil. Although she already has the adults’ voices, she also needs the voice of Eska, a young girl whose memory she captures in a locked box then enchants her to become a static dancer in a music box. There Eska is to wait for midsummer’s day where the Queen will capture Eska’s voice, unleashing the power of the Sky Song and reach immortality.

Eska is a fierce red-head, but no longer knows her family, her tribe, her place in Erkenwald. All she has is her voice, one which is ‘bold and unlikely’. The Ice Queen needs this cursed voice to complete the magic to achieve her immortality.

The boy who ‘could feel himself folded further into her story’ is Flint: a boy from the Fur Tribe who is always in trouble for his ‘detours’, lack of concentration on the ‘important’ matters of his tribe (of which his brother is the interim Chief). He loves animals, inventions and his little sister, Blu; the latter two are both affectively drawn. Blu has Downs Syndrome, but cannot be dismissed (as the Ice Queen mistakenly tried to do) as she too is a fierce, brave eight year old girl who proudly loves her brother, doing her utmost to save her brother and her friends.

Flint and Eska escape Winterfang, undertake an exciting quest to foil the Ice Queen’s plans, find the Sky Horn and allow the Sky Song to keep the stars shining, destroying the Ice Queen’s selfish plan for immortality. It is fast-paced, exciting story with a great furry, feathery, beating heart of friendship. Eska and Flint find their own strengths, their places in their world, their connection alongside the wild animals of Erkenwald. As Eska says, ‘I have a voice and I’m going to make it count!’

‘I don’t think you have to fight with weapons to be a warrior,’ Eska whispered, ‘You could fight with love and tears and adventures instead. That would probably be just as good.’

Highly recommended for an 8-12 year old readership, but anyone who loves nature, wildness, adventure stories, the search for one’s sense of self. I shall be enthusiastically talking to customers long after it is Waterstones’ January Children’s Book of the Month. Excellent!

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Posted by on 31/12/2017 in review


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Review: How To Stop Time

A: Read Matt Haig’s latest novel! Its beauty, depth and humanity will make you forget the end of your lunch break, miss your Tube stop, take you beyond sleep. It’s as though the reading of this time-bending novel can stop time itself with the power of Tom Hazard’s story. 

It kept me cool during the recent heatwave.

Tom may look like an ordinary forty-odd year old but he has actually loved centuries. Through the terror of witch-hunts, to the stench of London with Shakespeare; the ephemeral jazz age with Fitzgerald to the excitement on the South Seas with Captain Cook, Tom lives through it all, until we meet him attempting to teach history to reluctant pupils in Hackney. 

Forever, Emily Dickinson said, is composed of nows. But how do you inhabit the now you are in ? How do you stop the ghosts of all the other ones from getting in? How, in short, do you live?

Tom has a rare condition which delays his aging; he is ‘an albatross’. Although not immortal, his aging process is so slow, he has to watch everyone he loves age around him. The skill of this novel is how Haig gets us to feel the emotional connection with Tom; his hope as he searches for his lost loves, how he tries to lose himself in the pleasures of the age, how he always feels disconnected from his surroundings.

…love food and music and champagne and rare sunny afternoons in October. You can love the sight of waterfalls and the smell of old books, but the love of people is off limits…’

Ultimately, this is a novel of hope, of joy in the present, of the power of love to sustain and give meaning to life. It is an easier read than these weighty themes might suggest; a unique love story with historical colour and humour .

That’s the thing with time, isn’t it? It’s not all the same. Some days -some years – some decades – are empty. There is nothing to them. It’s just flat water. And then you come across a year, or even a day, or an afternoon. And it is everything. It’s the whole thing.

As in his other novels, Matt Haig has successfully explored a complex idea with a light touch, injected both humour and pathos, to produce a joyful, moving and entertaining novel.     A delight to read! I shall be recommending it enthusiastically.
Thanks to Canongate for the prepublication proof.

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Posted by on 24/06/2017 in Life, review


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