Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Chronicles of Ancient Darkness - A must read for every fantasy reader!!

Wolf Brother :

"Six thousand years ago, Evil stalks the land. According to legend, only twelve-year-old Torak and his wolf-cub companion can defeat it. Their journey together takes them through deep forests, across giant glaciers, and into dangers they never imagined. Torak and Wolf are terrified of their mission. But if they do not battle to save their world, who will?" 
Wolf Brother is the first book of six and begins The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver.
Torak is now alone and scared. His father is dead, slain by a demon in the form of a great bear. Torak must keep going; his only friend is another orphan, a small wolf cub. Evil stalks the forest and Torak must face a foe that stalks him silently and cannot be shaken.

Wolf Brother is an excellent book, highly researched and showing admirable attention to detail. The short, sharp chapters and wonderful world development creates a page-turner that can be finished without the reader even noticing they were getting near the end.
Wolf Brother has also brought a welcome breath of fresh air to the realm of children’s fantasy. JK Rowling’s successful Harry Potter series had resulted in a flood of teenage angst and magic type books that did not live up to the quality of Rowling’s inventions.
This a predominantly a young adults book, Torak is twelve and I was say that this is probably the optimum age to read it. Due to its subject matter, a young boy becoming orphaned and having to fend for himself in the wild, the tale is gritty and realistic and holds no punches when showing the harshness of the lives that was endured by Torak and the clans.

Spirit Walker : 

"As the Moon of No Dark waxes high, the clans fall prey to a horrifying sickness. Fear stalks the Forest. The very breath of summer seems poisoned. No-one knows the cause - and only Torak can find the cure. His quest takes him across the sea to the mysterious islands of the Seal Clan. Here, Torak battles an unseen menace, and uncovers a betrayal that will change his life -forever"
Although he is still reeling from the violent death of his father and the loss of his "soul" mate, Wolf, Torak has found a kind of peace living with the Raven Clan. As he tries to sort out his life, he has developed a growing fondness for its leader, Fin-Kedinn, and a kinship with the gentle people. In a single moment, however, all of this changes when he encounters a sick hunter from another clan.

The sick man had yanked handfuls of hair from his scalp and beard, leaving patches of raw, oozing flesh. His face was crusted with thick honey-colored scabs like birch canker. Slime bubbled in his throat as he spat out the last of the hair --- then sat back on his heels, and began scratching a rash of blisters on his forearm.
With his heart filled with dread, Torak returns to warn the Clan of the fever that is spreading. To his horror he finds that the mad sickness has already made its claim. Where could this be coming from? Was it possible that it had something to do with the Soul-Eaters and the warnings his father had given him? With a jolting realization, Torak knows he must find the source of this sickness. Thus begins a most perilous journey --- a journey to find the cure and a journey that unfolds a past that Torak will find hard to accept.
This story is told in two voices --- one from Torak and the other from his spirit brother, Wolf. Wolf refers to Torak and other humans as Tall Tailless. His voice offers views of all the confusion, which seems to result from human greed. Although Wolf does not understand the complexities of these things, he senses good and evil and the need to protect Torak. His ultimate goal is to be reunited with Torak and his journey parallels that of his spirit brother's.
Torak builds friendships within the Seal Clan but also tragically discovers a darker secret in someone he trusted. His problems have become deeper and more complex in this story, especially as he begins to comprehend that he is a Spirit Walker. Renn, the Mage apprentice (much like a spirit advisor), is again his companion and once more proves herself to be a true friend and warrior.
SPIRIT WALKER is every bit as good, if not better, than WOLF BROTHER. There is yet another book to look forward to and the possibility of a movie. Michelle Paver is in the winner's circle with this trilogy.

Soul Eater : 

"It's winter, and Wolf, Torak's beloved pack-brother has been captured by an unknown foe. In a desperate bid to rescue him, Torak and Renn must brave the Far North. As they battle for survival amid howling blizzards and the ever present menace of the great white bear, their friendship is tested to breaking point, and Torak is forced to get closer to his enemies than ever before..."
Soul Eater is set 6,000 years ago in Northern Europe, after the end of the last ice age, the novels take place along a wooded coastline, inhabited by wandering clans whose cultures revolve around totemic animals or trees: the Raven Clan, the Wolf Clan, the Willow Clan and so on.
The chief character is Torak who has the power spirit walk (inhabit the souls of animals). The narrative cleverly swaps between Torak's perspective and that of his friend, a girl called Renn, and Wolf, Torak's pack brother and constant companion since the first book, Wolf Brother. The three main characters are constantly saving each other from danger and it is in these moments that Michelle Paver is able to add heart-stopping suspense into the story. The chapters showing the story from the wolf's perspective are the most enjoyable - Paver manages to make Wolf behave in a completely wolf-ish manner, in a way similar to Robin Hobbs portrayal of Nighteyes in the Farseer books.

Soul Eater begins with pace and speeds up from there, in true epic fantasy style Torak's world is facing great danger and only he can save it. In Wolf Brother it was a demonic bear, in Spirit Walker the danger took the form of the plague, in Soul Eater he must defend his world from a band of turncoat mages (called the Soul-Eaters) bent on world domination.
As The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series progresses we find out more about Torak's ancestry and clues are dropped as to where the series will go after this volume. The climax to the book is excellent and quickly reached as this is a real page-turner. This book has everything, killer polar bears, demons, magic, wonder and danger. The first two books were very good; Soul Eater is excellent. The relationship between the clans and the natural world is beautifully wrought and the narrative is lively and compelling. Paver's research has been painstaking, both in terms of the natural and spiritual world in which the clans exist.
Young adults will embrace Soul Eater wholeheartedly and fans of the Ancient Darkness series will find that Paver has given then a third instalment even better than the previous two.

Outcast : 

For two moons Torak has hidden a terrible secret—and now it is revealed. He bears the mark of the Soul-Eater, and must pay the price. Cast out from the clans, he is alone and on the run: cut off from his best friend, Renn, and his beloved pack-brother, Wolf.
He flees to the haunted reed-beds of Lake Axehead, where he is hunted by the Otter Clan, taunted by the Hidden People, and, as soul-sickness claims him, he falls prey to an even greater menace. Tormented by secrets and broken trust, he uncovers a deception that will turn his world upside down.
I am the oldest of the clans of the Open Forest...I speak for them all...The boy bears the mark of the Soul-Eater. The law is clear. He must be cast out.
What does it mean to be an outcast? For Torak it means he is no longer accepted among the clans. He leaves his tribe in disgrace because he has the mark of the Soul-Eaters on his chest. He cannot communicate with anyone, and if he is found, he will be killed. Fin-Kedinn, the Raven Leader who has been like a father to him, has been forced to cast him out. Even Renn, his best friend, is not allowed to help him and must turn her back on him or risk her own death. He is clanless. Torak travels alone, always in danger and with the curse of the Viper Mage, Seshru of the Soul-Eaters, haunting his every step.

The young warrior, however, does not give up. As he walks away from his beloved peoples he declares:
I may be outcast and clanless, but I'm no Soul-Eater. And I will find a way to prove it..."
With his long-time companion Wolf at his side and his confidence in the forest, he is determined to tear the mark from his chest and prove his worthiness. Though Renn is supposed to stay away, she finds him and reveals the magic rite he must use to remove the evil scar. Yet, as he moves deeper into the forests and is faced with more obstacles, his confidence is challenged from all directions. Hunted and haunted by the Viper Mage, Torak is unable to escape her powerful magic. Worst of all, he discovers that he cannot control the sickness creeping through his body and that he might, without intent, harm those he loves.
Renn now travels with a skilled Skinboater from the Seal Clan known as Bale. Risking their own lives, they try to protect Torak and help him as he fights against the Soul-Eaters. But for Renn there is even greater danger as the Viper Mage, Seshru, controls Torak and, in her raging jealously, sends a giant, slithering horror to destroy her.
The snake stretched its jaws wide --- its fangs unfold from the roof of its mouth and point down --- they fill with venom, ready to strike...Bite, bite..
How can OUTCAST be just as good, if not better, than the previous powerful books in this gripping series? The introduction of Bale is a good addition and brings an interesting character into the close relationship of Renn and Torak. All the wonderful details of life 6,000 years ago, the mystic happenings, the customs of everyday living and the abilities to survive in a world full of unknown threats is fascinating reading. Michelle Paver keeps every minute tingling with excitement, mystery and adventure.
The black and white drawings by Geoff Taylor again beautifully illustrate Torak's world. 

Oath Breaker :

When he was outcast, Torak was the hunted one. Nine moons later he becomes the hunter when he vows to avenge the killing of one of his closest friends. Racked by guilt and grief, he follows the killer into the Deep Forest, where the World Spirit stalks the hidden valleys as a tall man with the antlers of a stag. But there is a rottenness at the heart of the Forest, for its clans have succumbed to the lies of the Soul-Eaters. Here, Torak must face fire, war, and overwhelming evil. Oath Breaker is a story about keeping promises and the true cost of vengeance.
Bale lay on his back. His face was unmarked. It was the back of his skull that had cracked like an eggshell.
Perhaps one of the worst things that can happen to a person is to lose their best friend. When Torak discovers his friend Bale murdered, he is not only devastated but his guilt is overwhelming. If Torak hadn't left their campsite during the night, none of this would have happened. He carries his guilt heavy within and is determined to avenge this brutal death. He will risk anything to give Bale's spirit its proper rest and find the killer.
Despite warnings from Saeunn, the old Raven Mage (she cautions that Torak's foster father, Fin-Kedinn, will never see the end of this journey), Torak sets out accompanied by Renn and Fin-Kedinn. Even before they leave camp, they have discovered Bale's probable killer. All signs point to an old enemy, the Oak Mage, known as Thiazzi. In their last encounter the evil Soul-Eater had been attacked by a wolf who took two of his fingers in the process. Thiazzi, probably traveling with the one other remaining Soul-Eater, Eostra, is also bent on revenge. The little Raven Clan is up against some very powerful magic and madness on this journey.

For the time being, Torak's long-time companion, Wolf, is on his own journey. Although Wolf and Torak have been separated, Wolf has sensed Thiazzi, who he calls the Bitten One, and is driven to follow this scent. Wolf's language is simple and picturesque. When he sees the "tailless one," his thoughts move like this:
The Bitten One was sliding up - Wet on the trunk of an oak. Wolf caught the glint of a great stone claw at his flank. He caught the smell of pine-blood and reindeer hide, and the strange, terrible Bright Beast-that-Bites-Cold.
Not long after Wolf and Torak are united, Thiazzi makes a bold move and the little band of travelers walk into a trap. Renn is hurt, but Fin-Kedinn's injuries are life-threatening. Now the warnings of Saeunn make Torak realize that he has been foolish in this quest because he has risked the lives of those he loves. When Fin-Kedinn is back with the Raven Clan, Torak vows to go on by himself. Little does he know that Thiazzi has much worse plans for him. Thiazzi is mad, determined to become the most powerful Mage and bent on destroying Torak. The boy will need all the strength, magic and cunning he has to meet the challenges of this formidable enemy.
Michelle Paver once again delivers a riveting story full of fast-paced adventure and unexpected twists. Her detailed research enriches Torak's adventures in a world long gone. By now, readers have become familiar with the psychic connection that allows Wolf, along with the ravens Rip and Rek, to communicate with the young boy. As he grows into manhood, Torak must confront his own demons, and in OATH BREAKER he faces some of his most challenging obstacles.
Geoff Taylor's wonderful black and white illustrations beautifully augment the richness of Paver's book. An excellent map in the beginning helps the reader easily follow Torak's path through the North Woods and see the placement of the various clans. Fans will love this fifth installment as they again share Torak's adventures in a world of magic and beauty.

Ghost Hunter :

Her cry rips the souls from your marrow. With her spear she snares them. She devours them. Eostra truly is an eater of souls.
Winter is coming. Souls' Night draws near. Eostra, the Eagle Owl Mage, holds the clans in the grip of terror. Torak must leave the Forest and seek her lair in the Mountain of Ghosts, while Renn faces an agonizing decision. Wolf, their faithful pack-brother, must overcome wrenching grief. And in the final battle against the forces of darkness, Torak will make the most shattering choice of all.
Ghost Hunter, the final book in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series, draws the reader for the last time into the shadowy world of the deep past and brings Torak to the end of his incredible journey.

Look behind you, Torak.
He spun around.
Two paces away, an arrow had been thrust into the earth.
Torak recognized the fletching at once. He knew the one who had made this arrow. He wanted desperately to touch it.
He tried to lick his lips, but his mouth was dry.
"Is it you?" he called, his voice rough with fear and longing.
"Is it you?...Fa?"
The dreams are coming fast and furious now. It's hard for Torak to tell what's real. He desperately misses Fa (his father) but knows he's dead. Still, when he hears his father's voice and occasionally sees him, he's shaken. Perhaps his father is trying to tell him something, like he is in danger and needs him. He is sure his father's spirit is not at peace, and now must do something to ease the journey into the spirit world.
The Raven leader Fin-Kedinn is full of misgivings. He warns Torak that these things can easily be the work of the Soul-Eaters. Their old enemy and powerful Mage, Eostra, is once more working her magic. She is determined to kill Torak and create a world only for the Soul-Eaters. Torak is in her way and has been much too long, and she will stop at nothing to get to the Spirit Walker. Fin-Kedinn warns the boy of Eostra's ability to twist reality and that he will walk into danger, but Torak replies: "You can't stop me."
Now 15 years old, Torak has grown stronger and tall. He leaves the Raven camp on his own, fearful that staying behind will endanger them all. He chooses not to take Renn or Wolf for these very reasons, so the danger will be upon him alone. The Eagle Owl Mage is after him, and he will meet her on his terms but cannot even begin to imagine the horrors and sacrifices awaiting him. He is set to discover that he cannot do this on his own and that tragedy will stalk him and those he loves along the way
Wolf and his mate, Darkfur, now have two cubs, Shadow and Pebble. The wolves are happy and content in their safe shelter. Torak must say his goodbyes and be on his way. Wolf is sad to let the boy go on his own, but respects his wishes and knows also that he must stay with his family. At the same time, Rinn is not accepting being left behind. Despite warnings from Fin-Kedinn and the old Mage, Saeunn, Rinn begins following Torak.
The evil that is growing more powerful has pervaded the forests and affected the animals and the weather. Torak does not get far when he knows that the eagle owl, possessed by the Soul-Eaters, has circled back and is going to attack the wolves. The ravens (Rip and Rek), traveling with him, have screamed their warnings and flown ahead, but when the boy gets to the wolves' lair, one cub is beyond his help. Darkfur is in a desperate battle with the owl trying to save her last cub. Despite Torak's attempts, he watches in horror as the brave mother falls from the cliff into churning waters below and the giant owl carries off the squealing cub.
This is only the beginning of a journey that brings heartbreak and near death to Torak and others. The unexpected ice storms, the madness of the Soul-Eater Madge, and the tokoroths who work with her create unspeakable horrors in a nightmare that cannot end. How can Torak save what is left against these so powerful forces? Have any of the sacrifices been worth it?
GHOST HUNTER is the final installment in Michelle Paver's wonderful Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series.These books should definitely be in every school library as they offer fantastic insights and terrific storytelling of a time long gone . There's no question that they would also lend themselves to reading aloud.
Renn is a powerful female character who is respected and forceful. Torak is a boy thrown into the turmoil of a life that is hard beyond words, but whose spirituality is able to bring him through the darkness. The series combines the three "e's": educational, entertaining and enlightening. Along with Paver's stories, artist Geoff Taylor's beautiful drawings and maps help the ancient world truly come alive. Parents, teachers, librarians and, of course, young adults will definitely want to add this series to their reading list.