I was unsure of what I would make of Wolf Brother when I heard about it earlier this week. The headlines hit that author Michelle Paver was given perhaps the largest advance for a book ever, that it was a story researched at great lengths, and a story that had been written many years ago and then filed away until recently.
Perhaps now was the perfect time to bring it out. A heightened interest in books, from both the public and the media, has led to many high profile children's books being released within the past decade. This could be one reason why another series of books about a small orphaned child growing up will have the media immediately announcing Michelle Paver as the new J.K Rowling.
Do we really need another J.K Rowling? I think not.
It's good, then, that this book delivers something much more than an angst ridden teenager struggling with his childhood in an magical world. Instead we are treated to a story lavished with wonderful terrain, friendship and enemies and, more importantly, a feeling of history that's not too distant from life today.
'Wolf Brother' follows the story of Torak, a boy who is orphaned and on the run from an evil he cannot fathom and whose only ally comes in the form of a wolf cub - coincidentally recently orphaned. Paver manages to capture a perfect level of understanding and friendship between these two unlikely friends that's heart-warming and obviously something more than the love of a man for his dog. Together they embark on an adventure which is fast paced and full of excitement, danger and betrayal at every turn.
Although the story can be somewhat predictable in places, there are instances of genuine concern for the characters and situations they get into, and real feelings of fear at others. This is countered nicely with several light-hearted moments and an overall feeling that the best is yet to come in future books. Although easily readable as a standalone, it works as a great build-up to what may happen in the future, at the same time as keeping some things secret, and the reader wanting to find out more.
The chapters are short, meaning you have convenient places to put the book down, but they always seem to be left with a cliff-hanger that makes you want to carry on reading for just one more chapter, and then one more, until you realise you have finished the book. It's extremely easy to read and, unlike many books aimed at children, provides a great narrative that allows the reader to be absorbed into the world regardless of age, but in a way that is not condescending.
Sure, other books offer you a story that has a hero who is on a mission and deals with friendship, evil and magic - but how many of these stories make you want to camp outside with your dog and roast a lemming over an open fire?
'Wolf Brother' is a great introduction to what looks set to be a promising series of books, and a host of characters that I, for one, am looking forward to seeing develop.