Crossposted from Goodreads - beware of spoilers!
* spoiler alert ** Actually, I am wavering between four and five stars on this one. Until I finished the book, I was thinking: what a lot I could learn from Michelle Paver! She has the gift of writing such a gripping story that you (I, at least) put down every other book in order to finish hers. She can also be trusted to do her research, write believable characters, and use good, clean prose. All this makes her books a pleasure to read.
This new series is set in Bronze-age Greece (before it was Greece) and Crete. I was extremely taken with the character of Pirra, a Cretan 12-year-old who has been promised in marriage to an Achaean lord she has never seen. Pirra is determined to escape. More than anything, she wants freedom to make her own life. Interestingly, until she meets the second protagonist, her best friend is an Egyptian slave who is like an older brother to her.
That protagonist, whom Pirra encounters as he tries to steal a boat, is the young goatherd Hylas. The book begins with Hylas wounded and running for his life from black-clad, ash-coated warriors. His goal is to survive the tumult he is caught up in and find his little sister. But, at every turn, he encounters more mysteries and more danger. He also makes a friend; a young dolphin he names Spirit, who saves his life when he is lost at sea. The relationship between Hylas and Spirit is reminiscent of the friendship between Torak and Wolf in the "Chronicles of Ancient Darkness". Paver writes animals and their viewpoints awfully well, and Spirit becomes the third pov character.
The fourth is Hylas's best friend, Telemon, who is caught in a terrible quandary. He has a relationship with the Crows, the warriors who have tried to kill Hylas, and who have driven Hylas's little sister further into the mountains. As a chieftain's son, Telemon is bound to obey his father. But he wants to help Hylas and little Issi. Can he find a way to fulfill all his obligations? I don't want to say more about Telemon's quandary, but I do hope we see more of him in further books. I could empathize with him, and, by the end of this book, he had come to a somewhat dubious decision, one that I hope he will rethink.
As for Hylas, he's a tough, illiterate kid - very capable and very ignorant at once. I liked the way he and Pirra, when stranded on a dangerous, sacred island, struck sparks off each other and also filled gaps in each others' knowledge. One of the things they discover is exactly why the Crows are hunting and killing outsiders like Hylas. There is, of course, a prophecy, and the Crows are determined to see it never comes true. The prophecy concerns a dagger which Hylas is given by a dying man. Hylas comes to think the weapon is evil and that it has a mind of its own. I think he might be right.
The reason I'm wavering between 4 and 5 stars is that, fine as it is, this story does not quite stand alone. I was frustrated that we never found out what happened to little Issi, and, at the end of the book, all four of the viewpoint characters have been separated. That was frustrating, too!
One of the blurbs about this series is that Hylas would be helped in his quest by three animals, a dolphin, a falcon, and a lion cub. We have met the dolphin, and he seems strongly linked to Hylas. I have a suspicion that the falcon will be linked to Pirra, and the lion cub to Telemon, the chief's son. We'll see!