Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Arrowhead, by Ruth Eastham

A dual narrative that starts with the slow death of a Viking boy, trapped and bleeding at at the bottom of a glacial crack.  In his last few moments of life, he scratches warning runes into the frozen wall, warnings about the golden arrowhead in his hand.

1000 years later, the school outcast finds his frozen body and takes the arrow that has been hidden for so long. He and the new kid, Jack return to the frozen cave the next day in a frantic attempt to hide from apparently deranged bullies, psychotic and bloodthirsty. Seeing the frozen boy's face, unchanged by time, they are startled by the dead boy's resemblance to Jack.

When Jack starts having flashbacks of the Viking boy's (Tor) life, he knows they must be connected in some way.  Suddenly able to understand the ancient runes, Jack is able to decipher the warning message on the wall.  The curse of the arrowhead has been released once more, bringing with it four elemental plagues; air, water, earth and fire, just as it did in Tor's lifetime.  Jack and Skuli must race against the clock, decipher an ancient riddle-like ballad and arrange a Viking Warrior's funeral before the Midnight Sun touches the sea...

Arrowhead is a fast paced adventure, full of fights, fire, mountains and mystery that has a really good setting and structure.  The only place that I feel that this book falls down is in its characterisation.  The author has created an interesting backstory for the main character; a hatred of ice due to the tragic death of his father, a mentally ill mother, a well-tuned moral compass- it sounds promising and full of character potential...but nothing that Jack does or says seems to give him much personality. I get that some characters are more interesting because they're mysterious- he makes the reader want to know more about him.  But Jack just seems a little flat.  I didn't understand  the function of the dog, Sno either.  He was cute and all, and it kept seeming like he was going to do something important or spectacular, but that just never happened.

The novel switches between Viking times and Modern day Norway via Jack's dreams, visions and Hallucinations in which he sees through Tor's eyes.  In this case, it's a really effective way of allowing the reader, and Jack at the same time, to discover more information about the demise of Tor, the greed of his brother (Vekler) and the power of the arrowhead, gradually revealing what needs to be done to quell the plagues and save the town. I also really liked the location of the novel (both historically and geographically)- though Scandinavian (set and written) literature is becoming more popular among adults, it remains quite an uncommon setting for Children's and YA literature, which made it quite memorable.  This could be an excellent tie in novel for those studying Beowulf at school.


  1. Hi Jude,
    It depends on the interests of the 14YO. If they're into Vikings or history, or stories about ancestry. It has some good ideas, and there's definitely a lot of action and peril, but I felt that there were too many aspects that were only partially developed.
    It's not bad by any means!
    Hope that helps!

    1. It did, thanks! I'm ordering the book :D