Harsu and the Werestoat by Barbara Else
Harsu has five droplets of god blood and a treasured cloak to remember his father by. Now his father is gone, he lives with his mother. But something is not quite right with his mother. She’s started kidnapping children, and sometimes her skin grows a soft down, little sharp ears emerge, and she turns into a horrible stoat. Harsu doesn’t know if the five godlet-drops of blood are enough to help him to rescue the kidnapped children and turn his own mother for good. Now that he has turned 12, he too might have to become a were-animal.
Harsu and the Werestoat is the first novel from acclaimed Kiwi author Barbara Else since her highly successful Fontania series.
She has created an original time-shifting world with this story. It is a story that is confronting, humorous, dramatic, while underpinned by a deep and ancient sense of morality.
The story was a little intense to begin with. It dives straight into the mystical, ancient world with little introduction. But surrender yourself to the story and it will be worth it.
Harsu and the Werestoat is extremely well thought-out. Else paces it perfectly, with just enough action to keep the reader hooked and turning the pages to see where Harsu and his ‘siblings’ end up next. It reads like a fairy tale, with a deep mythical element. There are elements of magic and mystery, that are contrasted by a strong sense of morality and justice.
Harsu is a warrior. The book follows his plight to please his mother, save his ‘siblings’ and discover himself. As a character he is strong, relatable and has strong morals. He is also a wonderful exemplar of a learner – he’s not afraid to learn from his mistakes, try again, and to recognise the importance of learning.
Else has also researched the book extensively. Each time period the book is set in feels authentic and is instantly recognisable. The ‘world’ that Harsu and his mother Daama live in feels real, as do the relationships within the book, despite the mythical elements to many of them.
Harsu and the Werestoat is a surprising read. Else has built a fantastical world, rich in detail and imagination. It is a book that will delight those that tumble into Harsu’s world.
Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser
Gecko Press, $19.99