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REVIEWS OF "OUTCASTS OF SKAGARAY"
By Jill Ireland
'Myth or novel, I wondered, as I looked over Andrew Clarke's "Outcasts of Skagaray." Initially, the book seemed as far outside of time as Tolkien or Kelleher, and yet the approach Clarke takes is firmly anchored in realism.
His characters are not mythical figures, but real people; the babies cry at inconvenient moments, and the unfit hamper the progress of the whole group's travel.
Throughout the book, the mundane practicalities of life impinge on characters who are fighting against evil. Motives are always mixed, and suspicions are only dispelled through the experience of being in dire need together.
Andrew Clarke has managed to avoid the pitfalls which dog much writing of this type, among them too great a preoccupation with local colour at the expense of the narrative and character development.
Readers will not find themselves irritated by any invented language, unnecessarily long and exotic names, or archaic language. The diction is spare, crisp and convincing. The characters are forcefully delineated and not easily confused. One of the interesting features of the book is the young hero's questioning of the 'givens' of his culture.
Knowing he does not match up to his community's warlike ideal sets him apart, but also gives him space to consider the justice of requiring every individual to emulate this ideal. He goes out looking for alternative means of survival, and ends up creating a new rule of life which sees individuals as complementary parts of a more diverse community, in which difference can be prized rather than feared.
Reading "Outcasts of Skagaray" I was surprised at my rapid engagement with the hero Tarran. The third person narrator rapidly fleshes out this character as someone whose concerns affect us too. His sense of isolation from his own people is powerfully conveyed and the reader feels surges of relief as others gradually come out of the tightly knit community to express solidarity with Tarran, and help him shape a new way of life.
An outsider helps in this task. Initially a shadowy figure with echoes of St Columbia, to my mind, Ambrand offers the community both an outsider's and an insider's view, having lived long ago on Skagaray. He brings news of the True God, news which clarifies many of the uncertainties these outcasts have faced. No deus ex machina, this God is almost a character in the book, and the implications of His way are profoundly conveyed, without religiosity. This is no small achievement, and will make the book accessible to a wide range of readers from high schoolers to adults. (By Jill Ireland)
By Sophie Masson, author of "Snow, Fire, Sword" and "The Hand of Glory".
"Outcasts of Skagaray" is a fast-paced, exciting adventure of how love and courage and faith can overcome cruelty, fear and evil. Its powerful story and vivid cast of characters combine with a strong sense of a fully-realized fantasy world, with echoes of Norse and Orkney myth and history. In the tradition of G.P. Taylor, Philip Pullman, Lewis and Tolkien, this is a gripping, original fantasy quest adventure. (By Sophie Masson, author of "Snow, Fire, Sword" and "The Hand of Glory.")
Review by Prue Oldham.
As a teacher of Junior High School, Andrew Clarke became increasingly dissatisfied with the quality and content of books given to students for literature study. He decided to write one himself. "Outcasts of Skagaray" is the result.
The story revolves around Tarran, a youth who lives in a small, remote island village, which is oppressed very cruelly by a rigid social system.
Though he can faintly remember when, in early childhood, his parents were kinder and more flexible, Tarran now lives in absolute terror of their rigidness and cruelty.
All the youths in the village, both boys and girls, have to undergo frequent, rigid, systematic lecturing in the village Hall, by one or other of the cruel leaders, themselves under orders from the self appointed, predatory, egocentric 'PRIEST' who serves a fantastic hill-dwelling THING called the Kirkil - which everyone, even the toughest, fears.
In rebelling against the system when "Put to the Proving", Tarran becomes a hunted fugitive, an exile from family and the community. He develops into a type of Robin Hood, who, albeit unwittingly, gathers more outcasts, including an almost Christ-like man who fled the horrors of Skagaray many years before. Together they triumph over the evil one.
Like all good novels, it is imaginative, and Andrew has generated suspense throughout, also pathos and kindness. It is a refreshing contrast to many of the novels which have been given to school children in recent years.
The cover design and finish are very attractive. As a mother whose children have been subjected to the most appalling novels at school, I heartily recommend this book.
By Ned Makim, editor of the Inverell Times.
Published by Three Swans of Inverell, (and later by Musterion Press, of Sisters, Oregon) this book takes us to the land of Skagaray, and no-nonsense place if ever there was one.
It seems everything in Skagaray is pretty straightforward.
If people fight and someone is killed, so be it. It's all part of the proving of a wild and fierce people.
In fact, so tough are these people that the weak are driven out to die with nary a second thought.
That is, of course, until a few of the outcasts take exception to the rule and, with a bit of help, stage their own uprising.
It is a story of the rule of evil and cruelty meeting a growing sense of doubt and finally, justice.
It won't be for everyone but the fantasy fans, video gamers and dungeons and dragons types are sure to find something of interest.
Give it a try. Or better yet, give it to a teenage boy who seems otherwise glued to the Play Station console.