Friday, December 31, 2010

Review of The Shadow Hunt by Katherine Langrish

Langrish, Katherine. The Shadow Hunt. Harper, 2010.

Almost immediately after young Wolf runs away from the monastery where he has been under the thumb of awful Brother Thomas, he has a confusing and scary encounter with a wolf hunt led by a local lord, culminating in the discovery of a small child hiding in a deep cave.

Certain that this is an Elf child, Lord Hugo orders that the child be brought back to his castle. Wolf tags along and is happily absorbed into the busy life of the castle, with the admonition that he must teach Elfgift (as the child is named) to speak before Christmas. Lord Hugo is certain that his wife did not die and go to heaven years ago, but rather went to the realm of the Elves, and he wants Elfgift to give him information about her.

Despite this seemingly impossible task (Elfgift, a feral child, starts to understand language but shows no signs of ever saying a word), life at the castle suits Wolf fine, especially as he befriends Lord Hugo's daughter Nest and a traveling jester named Halewyn. But with Christmas comes not only Lord Hugo's dreaded deadline, but also Nest's long-planned marriage to a lord she's only met once - and when he arrives with his entourage, long-simmering tensions suddenly explode.

There's something about daily life in a busy, drafty, rustic medieval castle that always intrigues me, with its eccentric characters, volatile lord, and ever-present hounds, chickens, and pigs. Throw in a hob who lives in the hearth, a female spirit who haunts the courtyard, and of course little Elfgift, and I'm happy as a clam. Except - there are dangers inside and outside the castle walls, and one person in particular is not who he seems. Elfland, as it turns out, is terrifyingly, appallingly real. This is a world filled with danger, both human and supernatural. Children are abandoned by their parents, the Crusades are unholy in their brutality, and the Elf Lord may claim you for his own awful kingdom.

Langrish is a fine storyteller with an excellent sense of pacing, and she balances with ease the various elements of this tale - supernatural and down-to earth, chilling and humorous. A sure sign of a story's success is an unwillingness on the part of the reader to let these characters go. I would dearly love to read about the further adventures of Wolf, Nest, and Elfgift.

Highly recommended for fantasy readers, but also for those who enjoy stories set in the Middle Ages. For ages 9 to 13.


  1. It is a good one, isn't it! Have you read The Crowfield Curse yet? Another historical fantasy similar (yet very different!) in feel.

  2. I haven't! One more for my library reserve list...