Some books are remarkable because of the stories they tell; other books are remarkable because of their characters. Joseph Elliott’s The Good Hawk is remarkable because it is something new—something that is both brave and unequivocally wonderful.
The novel itself is a fascinating blend of the real and the fictional; Agatha and Jaime live in a small tribe on the Isle of Skye, an island off the coast of Scotia. Their tribe has been isolated from the outside world ever since a brutal plague swept over mainland Scotia, making the land uninhabitable; since then, the tribes of Skye have lived in a state of harmony. Their way of life is thrown into disarray, however, when the barbaric inhabitants of Norveg invade the island, and Agatha and Jaime are forced to watch as their tribe is enslaved. With nowhere else to turn, the pair set off on a daring rescue mission, determined to save their tribe—and what little remains of their culture.
In the distance, mainland Scotia looms into view like an unwanted spillage. I’ve always felt uneasy about the mainland, like it’s not quite far away enough. Skye is a big island, but the mainland is much, much bigger. It’s actually two countries: Scotia in the north and Ingland in the south. Apparently, we used to trade with them, but not anymore. Not since everyone there died.The Good Hawk | Chapter Six
The plot of The Good Hawk is enough to capture any reader’s attention. Yet it’s not (and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be) the main draw of this novel. This is because its brilliance lies not in the plot, the characters, or even the setting: its brilliance lies in the unique style of writing Joseph Elliott employs while exploring the emotions of Agatha, a character who was “inspired by some of the incredible children [Elliott] taught … particularly those with Down’s syndrome” (The Good Hawk | Afterword). Fiercely loyal and unquestionably brave, Agatha is a force to be reckoned with, yet she doesn’t always think or express herself in the same ways as her companions. She’s unique, and Elliott uses repetition and abrupt sentences to emphasise her differences. This writing style is particularly effective once it becomes clear that The Good Hawk is a dual narrative; half the story is told from Agatha’s perspective, while the other half is told from Jaime’s. Together, these protagonists create a varied and interesting narrative which is strengthened by the distinctive writing style used to explore Agatha’s thoughts.
When I first picked up a copy of The Good Hawk, I didn’t know just how unique a character Agatha was—I was expecting to read a simple, exciting fantasy story which would leave me feeling satisfied but not blown away… and, in all fairness, that’s exactly how I’d summarise the plot of The Good Hawk. It’s exciting, but it’s also a little simple, and that might be an issue for some readers. Then again, this is a young adult book, and I would argue that it could be suitable for younger readers, which excuses this minor drawback. Besides, the story isn’t why I recommend The Good Hawk. There are so many layers to this book; as well as its interesting characters and Elliott’s unique writing style, it offers a fascinating insight into Scottish culture, modern prejudices, and a rich, detailed fantasy world which is bursting with life. There are supernatural creatures, fictional languages, and even what could be called a magic-system. No, the plot isn’t the most complex, and yes, some of the more minor characters may be a little undeveloped, but these issues never once distracted me from the brilliance that is The Good Hawk.
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