I completely loved this book. Ottilie Colter And The Narroway Hunt found me at the perfect time when all I was craving was a great middle-grade series with awesome characters and a brilliant world. This book was all that, not to mention the super fun plot and thoughtful examination of gender and performance perfectly suited to younger readers.
The book opens with Ottilie going to search for her missing younger brother, Gully. In what feels like no time at all, Ottilie had wrapped me in her concerns and triumphs, her worries and troubles. Needless to say, the plot becomes far more complicated and Ottilie faces many challenges throughout the book.
Ottilie Colter is Katniss Everdeen for middle-grade readers. She is smart, determined and strong, while also being vulnerable and scared. Honestly, there are countless adjectives I could spit out to describe this character. She is the type of character I wish I had’ve seen more of in the books I read while growing up. She questions her role in the group she finds herself in and examines the wider society around her. Plus, not to spoil too much, but she has some mean skills with a bow and arrow, too. Ottilie is an excellent female protagonist and one who I think all children could find themselves relating to or aspiring to be.
The third person narrative voice was perfectly suited to this book. I could almost hear it as I read and it felt so easy to be scooped up in. That voice paired with the short chapters meant this was an easy book to read in a relatively short amount of time. It think for a middle-grade reader it would be a pleasant challenge that they could easily chip away at while feeling a sense of achievement with each small chapter.
The dialogue was also very well-crafted, with every character sounding distinct and easily identifiable. I don’t know what Rhiannom’s process was in terms of developing this, but it was clear that she had a tight grasp on each character, their phrasing and how they engage with the world around them, both verbally and physically. Each voice gave clues that developed the characterisation and background of Ottilie and her friends and gave breadth to the story.
My only real critique of the book is that a few of the characters did feel slightly sparse in their development and their position in the story wasn’t entirely clear. I assume these characters will be developed further in the second book, but for now they didn’t seem to add much to the first.
This book is a brilliant feminist text. From start to finish, the characters (not just Ottilie) examine the gender roles established in this world and question their position in relation to these roles and the other characters around them. The examination felt natural and genuine when introduced, rather than forced or overwritten as can sometimes be the case with themed children’s books. It felt like a very easy way to introduce the complex concepts of gender and performativity to younger readers and have them thinking further about their own society. While it was simplified in terms of a male/female dichotomy, I can see how these questions could be expanded past the book through critical thinking and discussion to more deeply understand gender performance and fluidity.
Not only did the book examine gender, there was also a slight examination of class. This surprised me as I wasn’t expecting so much intellectual content from this middle-grade fantasy book. There are a few scenes where the socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels of different characters were explored and compared. While this exploration was quite surface-level, I can’t see how a deeper exploration would have fit as nicely. Honestly, I was impressed that multiple concepts were considered in the book and felt like the socioeconomics was a gentle way to further the societal critique and another layer of encouragement for readers to think about these concepts beyond the book.
Complex stuff aside, the plot was a hoot to read. The dredretches (the villains) were really interesting and steadily developed across the book. They helped build the world and became a more important part of the plot as the book went along. The different varieties kept the challenges interesting and escalated the stakes and tensions as Ottilie encountered more and more terrifying types. To avoid spoilers, I’ll just say, I enjoyed that by the end, everything is not how it appears and there are some sneaky hints dropped for book two.
Overall, the book felt complex and simple all at the same time. The layers of the world and the slow unfolding of the political side of the plot was brilliantly done and really worked to add depth to the story. Hardie Grant Egmont are doing an amazing job of championing middle-grade series’ that celebrates difference, gender equality, friendship and courage in all its forms, as well as questioning stereotypes and society as a whole. It is refreshing to find books that have been thoughtfully and mindfully published, with the hope of growing empowered and bold future generations. And if my love for this first book wasn’t clear enough, I’ve already run out and bought the second book!
Title: Ottilie Colter And The Narroway Hunt
Authors: Rhiannon Williams
Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont
Extent: 343 pp.
Read If You Like: The Witching Hours series by Jack Henseleit, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, Jane Doe And The Cradle Of All Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan