Song for a Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt
Allen and Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781743313589.
(Age 9-12) Julie Hunt, author of CBCA shortlisted Picture Book The Coat has written about survival and loyalty, superstition and the value of friendship set in a bleak and unwelcoming landscape. It will take a mature 9-12 year old reader fond of the fantasy genre to appreciate the whole story.
Nine year old Peat, red haired with one green and one brown eye lives with her sister Maisie at the Overhang tending cows and making cheese. They were banished to this lonely, desolate place 4 days walk from the nearest village due to Peat's appearance.
When a travelling stranger brings disease to the village Peat is blamed and just escapes the mob. Alone and knowing she cannot return to the Overhang Peat travels towards the marshes at the opposite end of the valley. She is accompanied in her adventures by an animal she calls a 'sleek' which will scratch and steal her food one moment and save her life the next.
In the marshes she is captured by Eadie one of the magical 'marsh aunties' who takes Peat on as an apprentice and teaches her how to tell stories particularly the one about the Siltman. Peat is taken by the mysterious and Siltman and his hounds during a storytelling at the Hub and needs to escape again with the help of the sleek, a nine hundred year old boy and a ghost hound.
There is much to like about the characters especially the independent and optimistic Peat and the sleek which is so human in its reactions. Siltboy with his stilted speech and bravado and even Eadie, despite her betrayal of Peat, elicits sympathy at the end. The story moves along at a good pace with twists and turns a plenty as Peat seems to move from one perilous situation to the next and one hopes the sleek will turn up like the cavalry, just in time. However it is the Siltman's kingdom across the Silver River, 'the Ever' as Siltboy calls it' which keeps me thinking and poses the most questions.