This book has stolen my heart! I enjoyed reading it so much.
I loved it on the first read, when I was captivated by the friendship, humour and exciting world filled with unknowns that I just wanted to know.
I loved it on the second read, as I discovered some of the tricks author Rhiannon Williams used to make it so super-duper awesomesauce.
YES! And then!
AND THEN!!!! I went out and bought it because my library only had an e-book and I love paper books. And I loved it on the third read with its beautiful cover and fabulous messages for kids.
‘Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt’ by Rhiannon Williams is a delight for middle-grade readers. It won the Ampersand Prize. I can see why. If I’d been judging, I would have hugged the manuscript after I’d finished it.
(I may have hugged the book) (I do that sometimes)
Why did I enjoy so much?
Because it has action and suspense and camaraderie with this deep underlying theme of challenging gender stereotyping and being true to who you are.
AND I enjoyed it because I felt like I was in safe hands with the author – the reason why came apparent in my second read because Williams follows a pretty standard structure for the book. This isn’t a bad thing at all – it’s standard because it works for the reader, keeps them hooked and reading to the end.
So, a quick summary (and careful if you haven’t read it, because I can’t explain without a few spoilers!!):
Just plain awesome characters
The characters were the heart and soul of this book for me. Sure, there’s adventure and action and trying to get through the trials and stay high on the points ladder… but the characters make this book what it is.
Scoot is so funny. I want to give Bill a big wet hug. Skip is tough and brave and bright. Leo made me chuckle (because who hasn’t known a Leo, or realised they were acting the Leo, at one time or another?). But Ottilie is the star in my eyes.
Ottilie stared down at her knees. ‘I don’t know. I was never very brave.’
‘Ha!’ Skip covered her toothy mouth and glanced at the door again.
‘Look at you with your hacked-off hair, having a bath at midnight. You’re great. You and I are going to be friends.’ She snorted. ‘Not very brave – you’re obviously the best kind of brave!’
Gender stereotypes be gone!
Williams does this really well. It’s not forced down your throat but middle readers will clearly be empathising with Ottilie as she struggles to act like a boy should act, and keeps hearing the girl-jokes that she is proving wrong with every one of her successes.
Ottilie had grown so paranoid that she had begun to question her every gesture and posture, often altering her stance several times to find something that seemed naturally male – although she was beginning to suspect there was no such thing.
Ottilie’s a trail-blazing piece of awesome in this book, so it’s probably fitting I’m writing this review on International Women’s Day!
The structure that works
I go to writing workshops run by fabulous authors of brilliant books and usually they’ll advise us to write to one of a few tried and true structures. ‘Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt’ does this really well.
2.5% – inciting incident (Gully gone)
17% – Ottilie leaves the world she knows and enters the new world of the Narroway. All is unknown ahead of her.
44% – The book changes direction as the lead characters change what they’re aiming for – no longer do they want to escape.
50% on the dot – Fledgling Trials. Suddenly the stakes change for Ottilie and her friends again. Big time. Some things are easier (phew, the bathroom) and some much harder (eek the dredretches). This is new. We want to keep reading.
75% (I’m not making that up) – Ottilie tries and fails. Gamechanger.
91% – the main climax. Awesome stuff.
96% – Ottilie has proven her worth and achieved her goal. Though a different one to the one she started out with.
This is a great circular plot and gives a sense of closure for the first book. But then, of course, there are still those niggling worries – like are witches really all gone? and who is the cloaked figure? and what really is causing the dredretches to spread? And all these mean I’m happily anticipating Book #2 so I can meet my mates again and find answers.
So, I recommend you read it and/or get your 8 – 13 year-old to read it!