Deft characterization and an original protagonist elevate a fantasy set in quasi-medieval Scotland.
Fifteen-year-old Agatha, who has a Down syndrome–like disability, is proud to be a Hawk, charged with watching the seas of Skye for danger, despite some in her clan calling her “retarch,” stupid, and useless. Jaime has always been friendly toward her, even while dismissing himself as weak and worthless. When their people are enslaved by brutal raiders from Norveg, Agatha and Jaime must summon all their individual strengths. This page-turning adventure is rich in atmosphere while dripping with grisly violence; untranslated dialogue inspired by Scottish Gaelic and Old Norse adds extra flavor. Jaime and Agatha alternate narration, each distinctive voice unreliable in its own way: Jamie’s cautious, anxiety-riddled account cannot conceal his courage and compassion; Agatha’s simple words convey passion, loyalty, and cleverness. Other characters display less depth—the Viking-ish marauders especially are shallow villains. While the disability superpower trope is never overtly invoked, the only explicit magic is Agatha’s gift of communication with animals and a severely traumatized woman’s power to command spirits, which may trouble some. Nevertheless, most readers will race to the triumphant conclusion and shiver at dark hints of possible sequels. The few physical descriptions seem to point to an all-white cast; there is one same-sex relationship.
A fresh and exciting debut. (note about languages) (Fantasy. 12-16)