By Russell Hoban
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 978 1 4063 2991 9
The chances are you won't have come across a novel like Soonchild before, so if you are in the mood for an original and enthralling read, you need look no further. What is a "soonchild"? The novel's intriguing title promises much and Russell Hoban doesn't disappoint. Along with illustrator Alexis Deacon, he has created a book that demands to be read more than once to make sure none of its delights and mysteries are missed first time round.
Based on an Inuit myth, Soonchild tells the seemingly simple story of Sixteen-Face John, an Eskimo mystic and shaman who lives with his wife deep inside the frozen Arctic Circle. Hoban's depiction of the white, icy landscape takes readers away from their own warm world into a place that is so cold that your hair freezes and your face hurts as the wind blows.
This is a place where the ice bear walks alone and there is no colour. Sixteen-Face John and his wife do not have an easy life, but they know no other and they have to accept what the gods have given them.
Sixteen-Face John and his wife, No Problem, are positive about the future because they are expecting their first child. But John has become lazy, putting his shaman talent on the back-burner and sitting with his feet up, watching TV. He is suddenly spurred back into action when he learns that No Problem does in fact have a big problem.
The baby inside her doesn't want to come out of the warmth into the freezing cold world outside. What can Sixteen-Face John do to bring his child into the world? He has to find a solution, and fast. John sets out to find the mythical World Songs, the music that inspires reluctant babies to leave the womb.
He begins a mystical trip that will change him and take him into deadly and magical worlds. He battles magic forces, talks to animals and faces demons and his own death. And even when he hears the World Songs, can he be sure they do what the myths promise?
Soonchild is a breathtaking and magical book that is spooky, exciting and unusual. And it is a beautiful book. Deacon's illustrations play a big part in Sixteen-Face John's story, the colour scheme of the pages changing with each new phase of John's journey.
It is marketed as a novel for young adults, but it is one of those special books that will bring immense pleasure to anyone who loves the magic of reading.
John Millen can be contacted at MillenBookshelf@aol.com