A bit of a departure — I’m doing a quick review of a series of YA fantasy-type books. I’ve just started working with the series’ online community, and I wouldn’t have joined up if it wasn’t a series worth recommending.
The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness traces a few years in the life of Torak, a young boy who lives in the Stone Age. Yup, no metal tools and lots of flint. It opens with Wolf Brother, when Torak suffers a great loss (not a spoiler) and befriends a wolf cub.
I can’t (and don’t want to) say much more about the plot(s) as it would take some of the fun out of the series, but the slightly mystical nature of the book titles does mean there’s a little ‘magic’ in it. I did think that — if these books had been published when I was a child — I would have loved them. Torak and his companions go on amazing adventures (some of them are actually quite scary), but what would have captivated me was the descriptions of all the bushcraft Stone Age people would have likely used regularly in order to hunt and survive fairly comfortably.
Therefore, I would think that anyone who enjoys camping, was in the Scouts, or is a Ray Mears / Bear Grylls fan would really get into this series of novels, adult or child. All I wanted to do was get out there and see if building shelters like Torak did would really work, but then I live in a town and the vegetation described isn’t really, er, available.
(I did spend my childhood feeling hard done by because I didn’t have crimes and mysteries to solve like the Famous Five, Secret Seven, Three Investigators, and Nancy Drew. Yeah. Poor me, living in a safe and comfortable suburb with a minimal threat of death and disease, with no bad guys to ferret out.)
What I think would be the only thing that marks this series out as YA is the inevitable relationship that forms between Torak and a girl he meets. All successful YA seems to have it — Lyra and whatshisname in His Dark Materials (that one did make me cringe a little), Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley and Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in, er, Harry Potter. What makes a good YA series is how the author deals with the relationship, I suppose. *Spoiler* I like that Torak and his leading lady form a real partnership outside of any romantic-type feelings for each other — neither should feel inferior nor less worthy, but they are protective and caring, even though they make mistakes. A good set of principles for real teenagers learning to form healthy relationships, I think.
And a final note on how Michelle Paver (the author) shows the sensitivity these Stone Age people have for the environment. They revered it. I really liked how it was all about balance and cycles. Sure, some things were clearly pure superstition, but there was a real respect for nature and an understanding that people can’t just keep taking and taking without giving a thought to the future.