Song Hunter

Written by Sally Prue
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

40,000 BC, and an Ice Age looms. The Stonemen, a small Neanderthal clan, have just killed a mammoth in preparation for winter, but, though the meat will last them two months, the Stonemen are worried. The mammoth broke their only two spears, and they know that, without spears, they cannot survive until spring. Starvation beckons.

The Stonemen rely entirely on inherited ways of killing animals, and new ideas upset them. All except Mica, whose head is full of ideas she can’t express. When she envisages making a bola to entangle the legs of wild horses or deer, the clan reacts to her suggestion with unease and anger. For them, only strength is important and does she, a mere girl, think that she knows better than Elk, the strongest man in the clan? Even Bear, her best friend, who has just made his first kill and become a man, doesn’t understand her urge to speculate about the world. He thinks it’s dangerous and begs her to stop. Then, one day, Mica hears an extraordinary and thrilling noise. Pursuing the sound, she stumbles across a group of Howlmen, a different sort of human who sing, dance and carve animals out of bone, and her world is changed forever.

I really enjoyed Song Hunter. Sally Prue writes with a poetic intensity which grips us. We, too, feel with Mica, and empathize with her wonder at her discovery of a world of new possibilities, and her frustration with the Stonemen who obstinately refuse even to listen to her ideas. Sally Prue is good at getting across both the unrelenting cold and the clan’s everyday lives, and also Mica’s wonder at the Howlmen’s creative abilities – abilities she shares and which she senses hold the answer to their survival. Highly recommended for children of eleven plus.