Thursday 29 September 2022

The Crocodile Curse by Saviour Pirotta

 illustrated by Jo Lindley

Brothers Renni and Mahu, aided by their friend Princess Balaal  are off on adventures again. Renni has been working with his uncle decorating the interior of a tomb but the Pharaoh has decided alterations need to be made to the entranceway, so for a while Renni has nothing to do. Meanwhile floodwater has covered the land where Mahu grows his family's food. When it recedes, fertile black soil will be left for crops to flourish in, but for now Mahu has time on his hands. Balaal suggests they go on an a trip to Shedet, the city of Crocodiles, where the most sacred of the temple's crocodiles has died and is to be mummified.  

A fun journey soon turns more dangerous when among other visitors the friends spot Paser, Pharaoh's evil vizier. He's bound to be up to no good, but the three are determined to stop him, helped by a very unusual ibis.

This second book in the Nile Adventures series, following on from The Heart Scarab, reintroduces us to Ancient Egypt, and to the two brothers, Renni and Malu, and their friend Balaal. Since their father died, Malu, as the eldest, has to provide for his family, growing crops and fishing. Renni is quieter and more artistic and works as an apprentice to his uncle, helping with the decoration of the Pharaoh's tomb. In her own country, Balaal is a princess but she's come to the Black Land, Egypt, to discover more about its people and way of life. 

The Crocodile Curse is a book to entertain and educate.  It takes the three friends to Shedet and its temples dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile-headed god, and while young readers will find themselves caught up in their adventures, the background is full of informative facts about the culture and life of Ancient Egypt. It's a perfect tie-in to school KS2 history projects, helping to bring the past to life. Jo Lindley's black and white illustrations are full of slithery crocodiles, magnificent temples, and of course the three friends helping young readers to picture the scenes. 

Thursday 22 September 2022

Ithaca by Claire North

 Most of us are aware of the story of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, of the long years spent away from home - first in the siege at Troy, then at the mercy of gods and monsters as he tried to make his way home - but here is the story of the wife, and island, he left behind. 

Hardly more more than a girl when Odysseus left, Penelope has unobtrusively kept their island kingdom going. With all the able-bodied men following their king to war, farming, fishing, and trading have fallen to the women. Life has been quiet, but they survived. 

Now, with the majority of Greek warriors returned from Troy, Penelope faces new problems, finding herself besieged by self-proclaimed heroes determined to win her hand, and kingdom, while eating and drinking their way through her stores. At first convivial, their mood is turning nasty. What can Penelope do to keep the peace? One day, she hopes, Odysseus will return, but until then, on an island of women, old men, and inexperienced youths, who can defend her? 

There seems to be a re-awakened interest in Greek myths at the moment, with books from authors as varied as Natalie Haynes and Stephen Fry, but Ithaca I feel is the best I've read from the women's point of view. Told from the omniscient point of view of gossipy, sarcastic goddess, Hera, wife of Zeus, this is retelling with a feminist feel. How the left-at-home women actually coped while their men were away is something we can't know, but here Claire North offers an alternative to the meek-mannered version of Penelope of myth. Dealing with an unruly mob of suitors, the threat of pirates along Ithaca's coast, and the unexpected presence of a disgraced queen, Penelope proves herself to be as sly and cunning as Odysseus himself..

It's a change of mood for Claire North, whose previous novels have been more fantastical in nature, but a book I would definitely recommend.

Thursday 1 September 2022

The Wolf's Song by Saviour Pirotta

illustrated by Davide Ortu

Wolf, the Neolithic boy from the Orkney islands, has completed his journey to regain his precious amulet. Now it seems the only thing left to do is return to his home in the far north, and fulfill his dreams of becoming a shaman to help his people. But things aren't that simple. Being reunited with the amulet has brought strange dream-like visions of underwater creatures dying and being reborn, and when he is tempted to return to the temple of the Sleeping Goddess he unleashes her fury. Can he set things to right?

Fourth and last of this series set in prehistoric Britain and Europe, The Wolf's Song brings this story to a dramatic close. Wolf starts out from his home in Orkney as a young boy with aspirations to become a shaman, but with little knowledge of human nature or the wider world outside his island. On his journey, Wolf has traveled many, many miles, seen wondrous sights, and overcome numerous obstacles and challenges. Now he has at last gained the insight he needs to truly be a help to his people, but they are in physical danger. 

This has been a wonderful series, mixing nail-biting adventure with historic fact, and exploring problems and situations that are as relatable to today's readers as to the late Neolithic characters. It's a perfect read for the 7+ age group, whether they're learning about this period in school or not.

As with the previous books, the characters and atmosphere are captured by Davide Ortu's black and white illustrations. 

The previous books are - 

The Stolen Spear

The Whispering Stones

The Mysterious Island