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It was a joy to read about Hylas
on 8 May 2017
I came to this Michelle Paver series late, years after reading the award-winning ‘Chronicles of Ancient Darkness’ series which starts with the wonderful ‘Wolf Brothe’r. Doubtful that any character could be as admirable as Torak, it was a joy to read about Hylas who, like Torak, is an outsider.
‘The Outsiders’ starts at a run from the first page and doesn’t slow up. Hylas has been attacked, his dog is dead, his sister missing and a fellow goatherd killed. And the killers are after him. Adrift at sea, disorientated, Hylas fears he must die. And then there follows a glorious section about dolphins. I won’t give away any more of the plot. The narrative is a shape familiar from ‘Wolf Brother’ - wild boy in trouble, on the run, not sure who is friend or foe, sets off on a quest where he makes new alliances – but that doesn’t mean this is not an entertaining read with new characters, a new setting, and different myths and gods.
Michelle Paver’s books for children and young adults are set in mystical places but are based on solid research about the way our ancestors lived and survived in wild lands, the animals they hunted, the gods they worshipped and the monsters they feared. ‘The Outsiders’ is set in the Mediterranean in the Bronze Age.
All the outdoors things inaccessible to today’s children – unsupervised by adults, expected to be self-sufficient at the age of twelve, adventuring to unfamiliar places, making a den, lighting a fire, navigating, foraging, analysing geography, weather and threats. Her child characters have respect for their world, they are brave, adventurous and learn quickly from their mistakes. If they don't, they will die: these are not gentle stories but they are a preparation for the real world where children must learn for themselves how to survive.