In the distance, mainland Scotia looms into view like an unwanted spillage. I’ve always felt uneasy about the mainland, like it’s not quite far away enough. Skye is a big island, but the mainland is much, much bigger. It’s actually two countries: Scotia in the north and Ingland in the south. Apparently, we used to trade with them, but not any more. Not since everyone there died.
It is an impressive skill to write a book from a perspective that is so different to our own, and reading such a narrative can both distort and enhance our reading experiences. It is for this reason that stories such as Stephen King’s The Shining(1977) and Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl(2005) are so interesting; these gothic books are narrated by young children, and their innocence — and, at times, their ignorance — is what makes these stories so powerful.
Joseph Elliott’s debut novel, The Good Hawk, is not told from the perspective of a young child: the heroine was, as is noted in the book’s afterword, “inspired by some of the incredible children [Elliott] taught … particularly those with Down’s syndrome.” This heroine, who is named Agatha, is both brave and intelligent, yet even from Elliott’s writing style, it is clear that she does not always think or express herself in the way many of us do. Elliott uses repetition and simplistic language to explore Agatha’s thoughts and concerns in a unique way. These thoughts are made all the more interesting once it becomes clear that The Good Hawk is a dual narrative; half of the story is told from Agatha’s perspective, while the other half is told from the perspective of one of her fellow clan members — a young man called Jaime. Together, these protagonists create a varied and interesting narrative that is strengthened by the distinctive writing style Elliott uses to explore Agatha’s private thoughts.
The plot of The Good Hawk is just as entertaining as its characters: Agatha and Jaime live in a small tribe on the Isle of Skye, an island off the coast of Scotia. In this fantasy world devised by Elliott, those who once lived on mainland Scotia died during a brutal plague, but those who lived on the Isle of Skye survived. The tribe has never been too concerned about the outside world, but then, on one fateful day, the brutal inhabitants of Norveg attack the island, and Agatha and Jaime are forced to watch as their clan is captured and enslaved. Yet the hero and heroine of this novel cannot accept that everything they know has gone forever, and so the pair set off after their clan, navigating the harsh seas and even helping to uncover the truth about the mainland as they attempt to rescue their friends.
Simultaneously an action-packed young adult adventure story and a fascinating insight into Scottish culture and modern prejudices, The Good Hawk comes as a pleasant surprise. It is refreshingly original yet fits neatly into the young adult market, weaving a story that is sure to keep its readers entertained. Featuring magical creatures, fictional languages, and fascinating characters, this is a book that should not be underestimated. The Good Hawk is the first novel in a new trilogy of books, which surely means this will not be the last we hear of Joseph Elliott.