Song for a scarlet runner by Julie Hunt. Published by Allen & Unwin, 2013. Paperback, 324 pp. ISBN: 9781743313589. rrp NZ$19.99 (Also available on Overdrive ebook platform for libraries).
From the publisher:
The fantastic story of a young girl who must run for her life because she has brought bad luck to her village…Classic adventure-fantasy by an author with a fabulous and original storytelling voice.
Once, long ago and far from here, there were endless marshes, and in the marshes lived a marsh auntie, and that marsh auntie wore a coat with a thousand pockets, and in the pocket of that coat was a pouch, and inside that pouch was a nail, and that nail had the power to open a treacherous story…
Peat is on the run – forced to flee for her life when she’s blamed for bringing bad luck to her village. She heads for the endless marshes, where she’s caught by an old healer-woman who makes Peat her apprentice and teaches her the skill of storytelling.
But a story can be a dangerous thing. It can take you out of one world and leave you stranded in another – and Peat finds herself trapped in an eerie place beyond the Silver River where time stands still. Her only friends are a 900-year-old boy and his ghost hound, plus a small and slippery sleek – a cunning creature that might sink his teeth into your leg one minute, and save your life the next.
‘A gripping tale…Both magical and superbly true, this new world draws us into universal struggles of survival, loyalty and freedom, as secrets build and break around us like weather.’ ANNA FIENBERG
About the author:
Julie Hunt lives on a farm in southern Tasmania and is fascinated by landscapes and the stories they inspire. This interest has taken her from the rugged west coast of Ireland to the ice caves of Romania. She loves poetry, storytelling and traditional folktales, and her own stories combine other-worldly elements with down-to-earth humour. Her picture books include The Coat (ill. Ron Brooks) and Precious Little (ill. Gaye Chapman). She’s written a three-book series called Little Else about a plucky young cowgirl (ill. Beth Norling), and a graphic novel called KidGlovz (ill. by Dale Newman, who did the Scarlet Runner cover).
In Song for a Scarlet Runner, Julie explores an idea that occurs in many traditional stories throughout the world – the ‘external soul’. A person’s spirit is taken from their body and hidden away so they can never be killed, but eventually time and the laws of nature catch up with them.
What did I think about Song for a scarlet runner?
I found this a highly original tale – it is beautifully written and children that love fantasy where the reader is totally immersed in a different world will love this. In many ways it reads like historical fiction, the story could easily be describing life in the dark ages, the fantasy element is gradually introduced.
Peat and her older sister Marlie live in isolation at the Overhang, a barren desolate place where three roads meet but no one ever travels along them. The nearest village or collection of dwellings is Skerrick from where they were banished on the day of Peat’s birth. Peat was born with flaming red hair and one brown eye and one green. Her father disowned her and banished her mother and sister along with her. The two girls have lived very simply, tending cattle, making cheeses and the only thing they have to look forward to is the infrequent visits from their Aunt Wim. Wim brings supplies and takes the cheeses back to Skerrick.
One day a stranger comes along the road and tells them about his part of the world, and although it is close to Skerrick Peat and Marlie had no idea it existed. Peat is curious and asks lots of questions. Unfortunately the stranger is suffering from a plague like illness and after traveling on further to Skerrick, he infects the residents. This causes the wrath of Peat’s father to fall upon her again. Even though she has always longed for an adventure she is forced to go on the run into the badlands, leaving her sister behind. Peat meets a strange creature that she calls a Sleek. Despite the Sleek sometimes biting and hurting her and stealing the little food she has, he also helps her and becomes her traveling companion. Peat meets people along the way but she is unable to stay anywhere and has to keep moving further on, eventually into the marshes.
Once in the marshes Peat is fortunate to meet the Marsh Aunties, a group of strange, gifted women. Eadie is a larger than life character, wearing an organic living coat with 1000 pockets, all containing the herbs and other materials she needs for healing and making remedies. Eadie, rescues Peat and encourages her to be her apprentice and pass on to her, the skill of storytelling. While the reader is being coaxed lovingly into this story by the warm characters and delicious prose, the characters are telling us about the power and magic of oral storytelling. Unfortunately Peat is tricked and without spoiling the story, let me just say that Peat has to use the power of story telling herself in order to escape and rescue her friend Stiltboy.
The whole book is a very satisfying, rich fantasy read without the usual layers of props (dragons, wizards and the rest!). I believe that both girls and boys 9+ should love this book. It would be great read aloud.
My thanks to Allen & Unwin for sending an advance copy of this book for review.