It’s not very often that one can say they’re reading a book aimed at young adults and set in the Bronze Age, but today I have just that sort of treat for you. Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr, celebrated author of Nim’s Island among other books, features family tragedy, selective mutism, wise women, dancing with bulls, snake charming and all sorts of ancient historical goodness.
We gratefully received a copy of this unusual and absorbing tale from Allen & Unwin and are pleased to be participating in the blog tour for this title – Wendy herself will be guest posting at the shelf tomorrow, so stay tuned! In the meantime, here’s the blurb from Allen & Unwin:
There are two ways of looking at Aissa’s story. She’s the miracle girl who escaped the raiders. Or she’s the cursed child who called the Bull King’s ship to the island.
The firstborn daughter of a priestess is cast out as a baby, and after raiders kill her adopted family, she is abandoned at the gates of the Great Hall, anonymous and mute. Called No-Name, the cursed child, she is raised a slave, and not until she is twelve does she learn her name is Aissa: the dragonfly.
Now every year the Bull King takes a tribute from the island: two thirteen-year-old children to brave the bloody bull dances in his royal court. None have ever returned – but for Aissa it is the only escape.
Aissa is resilient, resourceful, and fast – but to survive the bull ring, she will have to learn the mystery of her true nature.
One of the first things you notice about the physical print copy of this book is its size – at first glance, it looks like a right hefty bit of work. Don’t be scared off by this however, because a good chunk of the story is told in verse. When raiders attack her family home and her mother tells Aissa to keep quiet until she returns, a very young Aissa seems to take this instruction quite literally, resulting in her selective mutism. The verse sections of the novel deftly give poetic voice to Aissa’s inner feelings and experiences, in a way that might, in a more typically formatted novel, happen through dialogue or introspection.
The book is split into two parts. The first, much longer, section details Aissa’s upbringing as the “cursed child” of her island and the ways in which she tries to carve out a life for herself in an openly hostile environment. We learn here about some special talents that Aissa possesses, but doesn’t fully understand or recognise, and as readers, we are also privy to information about Aissa’s family heritage of which she herself is unaware.
The second part of the book takes place on the Bull King’s island and moves much more quickly than the first section. This part of the book is quite action packed compared to the story set on Aissa’s home island and deals with Aissa finding her true calling and tying up loose ends regarding her identity.
There is plenty to get one’s teeth into here for fans of historical fiction who are looking for something set in a past a bit more distant than Victorian times. The culture, rituals and daily lives of the people of this time and place are really brought to life through Orr’s writing and the addition of verse certainly adds in building the atmosphere. Given that it’s the school holidays here in Australia, I’d have to recommend Dragonfly Song as the perfect way to escape on an adventure if you aren’t lucky enough to be travelling somewhere exotic during the break.
Don’t forget, tomorrow Wendy Orr will be taking over the blog to discuss what it feels like to have your book turned into a film! Same bat time, same bat channel folks!
Until next time,