Song Hunter by Sally Prue

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Song Hunter by Sally Prue

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Wonderful story stretching back into prehistory and looking at one of the encounters between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens that we now know took place. Skilfully told and truly interesting.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: January 2013
Publisher: OUP
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0192757113

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A new Ice Age is coming. Winters are getting colder. There are fewer mammoths to hunt and no trees from which to fashion spears to kill them. A small group of Neanderthals is facing starvation this winter. One of them, Mica, is full of ideas to avert the impending doom, but the others simply won't listen to her. If something has never been before then it is nothing and simply not worth thinking about. Even Bear, who loves Mica, won't hear her. One night, Mica hears strange voices calling in the darkness. They fill her with a deep sense of longing. But to whom do these siren voices belong? And do they hold the key to Mica's future?

There's something inexpressibly romantic about thinking back to our ancestors, isn't there? We now know that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens encountered one another in prehistory. In fact, humans today outside of Africa all have a small proportion of Neanderthal DNA, so we know at least some of those encounters were, um, significant! If any of you saw Prehistoric Autospy, a BBC2 TV series, you'll know a little bit about our ancestors already. And finding out is quite an emotional experience - I became quite tearful when the programme unveiled its reconstructions of three species of early hominids.

Sally Prue's story evoked a similar response. I'm a big fan of Sally's because she can tell simple stories in a knowledgeable way and yet insert an element of poeticism that really engages the reader. Here, the story is a lovely one of growing up and of the very human urge to explore, to grow, to become something more. Mica doesn't only represent Neanderthals, she speaks to us too. The careful research is clear - Mica's group's diet, hunting techniques, group size, shelters, and tools are described perfectly. The idea that Neanderthals were compromised due to deforestation from the encroaching Ice Age is a real theory, as is the pickling of meat by submerging it in pond water. It's difficult to convey the debate about Neanderthal speech - did they have it? What did it sound like? Which concepts did it express? - in a book for today's readers, but Prue manages to give the general idea.

There is a reason Mica feels the things she feels more than the others in her group. And it's here that Prue's trademark lyricism comes into play. Mica's is a truly romantic story, not just a piece of prehistoric guesswork, and this makes Song Hunter an absolute pleasure to read.

Neanderthals, Mayans and all sorts of other past peoples appear in Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx by James Rollins, which is a super adventure. Promise of the Wolves by Dorothy Hearst goes back 14,000 years to look at the domestication of wolves and the story of how dogs became man's best friend. You might also like Season of the Mammoth by Antony Wootten.

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