Outcast by Michelle Paver is the fourth of six volumes of The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series which features the boy hero Torak, his companion Renn the reluctant mage, and the magnificent wolf cub who is more pack brother than pet to Torak.
My seven year old son and I have been reading these books since the beginning of the year and loving them.
The formula for each book is the same, with Torak, Renn and Wolf facing some kind of danger which not only risks their own lives, but the lives of their tribes and by association the whole of the world they know.
The books are set in a kind of fantasy stone age with tribes based on their skills, their totem animals and the places they inhabit. The world is infested with demons and spirits that must be fought and/or propitiated in order for the order of nature to remain in balance.
The story line is an overarching narrative that takes place over the entire six books. You really do need to read them from the beginning in order to make any sense of them, so please don’t start here. Go back and begin with Wolf Brother if this sounds like your sort of thing.
The books are written for children aged between 8-12 I suspect, although they are quite dark and emotionally challenging enough to appeal to older children. My son loves them, but I suspect that were he reading them by himself instead of me, he wouldn’t be enjoying them as much because the books are full of quite complex ideas and tricky words which he might stumble over, and which would undoubtedly upset the flow of the narrative for him. As it is, I read, he listens and then we talk about it, which works for both of us.
The characterisation is wonderful. We particularly love Wolf, who is utterly brilliant in his own right and steals every scene he is in.
The books would work equally well for girls and boys. The main character is male, but Renn is a strong female figure who gets some really juicy story lines of her own and who helps to create a well rounded balanced book that will appeal to both sexes.
The books can be quite violent and rather frightening in places so if you think your child may be a little traumatised by them it is best to perhaps wait until they are a little older, or do what I do, and read with them so that you are on hand to see how the material is received.