Joseph Elliott has been delighting young children for years as an entertainer particularly beloved as Cook on CBeebies Swashbuckle and taking part in many CBeebies Pantos too, in fact if you are around young children who have since Christmas been wiggling and giggling ‘Biscuit Bottoms!’ its partly down to Joseph in a life sized gingerbread man costume!
So when I heard that one of my daughters’ favourite entertainers was writing a Teen-Young adult novel I was rather intrigued and Im so pleased to say that Joseph Elliot has really created something incredibly moving, beautiful and deeply thought provoking in The Good Hawk, an utterly brilliant and skilled piece of writing with such clever and loving construction of a mythic yet real world, plot and especially the characters that makes the reader stop, and think.
I’ve seen other reviews look at the landscape and fantasy aspects but I want to talk about the characters! So yes lovely Mythic Scotland, Coos, Highlands and Islands and wonderful evocative imagery and wonderful magic too but I can’t really speak about that without MASSIVE SPOILERS!!
This review contains a mild Spoiler which is marked clearly.
On the island of Skye in a Mythical Historic Scotland decades after a plague devastated the mainlands, Agatha watches the sea. She is a proud Hawk, but not all of her Clann are proud of her even if she does her best to live by the rules.
Jaime doesn’t want to be an Angler, but once you are assigned, tough. It’s also tough that he will be the first on the island to marry in a hundred years to make an alliance with the neighbouring island of Raasay against the scourge of warriors from Norvig. Agatha in her thinking, resolves to ‘save’ him.
But the morning after the wedding brings betrayal and tragedy, but allows Jaime & Agatha to survive and decide to chase after and risking death fighting for their Clann than live without them. On the way the pair meet a deamhan Prince, Highland Coos, wild terror-wolves, shadow creatures and challenges to everything they’ve been taught is right and wrong.
‘My heart inside is hurting. I fall on the grass and grip my hands in the mud and I scream at the sky. I can not stop the tears.’Agatha
I love fierce, bold Agatha, full of heart, fire & a wonderful passionate soul in spite of the rejection & scorn for her condition. She is blazing bright.
Whilst ( understandably considering context ) never named in the book, Joseph Elliott has made it clear that Agatha has what we would call today Trisomy 21 or Down’s Syndrome and this is explored in how she is described as her face and body looking physically different to others in her Clann and from her narration she is Neurodiverse a beautifully complex and feeling character .
This choice is so brilliant to see a complex neurodiverse protagonist with some intellectual disabilities who is not just written as ‘quirky’ neurotypical with a label. The contrast between her inner and outer voices is so important personally to communicate to readers about the communication factors not reflecting the persons capacity for depth of intelligence and feelings.
My brother is neurodiverse with special needs with a strong factor of communication processing difficulties and I have worked with children, teens and adults with ND and SEN and so whilst it lifts my heart to see characters like Agatha not relegated to tropes, tokenism or mascots or worse, neurodiversity ‘drag’ , this is more than inclusion it is empowering readers with Neurodiversity and/or Down’s Syndrome & great for building understanding and empathy.
You cannot help but love fierce and fantastic Agatha.
“I knew it was coming out wrong but I couldn’t stop it. It happens like that sometimes “Agatha
Elliott has thought carefully about the narration, there are distinct different voices for Agatha and Jaime each giving insight into the characters. Close attention has been paid to the structure of the language Agatha uses both in her head and speaks, how she perceives others and the world around her, how she can have low filter and nuances of her feelings and her anger. The language of The Good Hawk is beautifully wrought with so much love and respect for her differences. The reader laughs and resonates with her throughout such as when she talks about being excited to ride on the Highland Coos but not really because it hurts her bottom! We emote and we rage for her when she is rejected and sad.
Throughout, we see time and again Agatha pushing back against the frustrations of people babying or underestimating her, temper overflows and quite rightly. Agatha is a bright blazing star of courage and heart and achieves far more than many neurotypical people around her yet is written off by others for the way she is made. And yet, she refuses to let what others see get in the way of being Agatha.
I find it wonderful how Agatha bucks hard against the labels and the sneers, and even to the point of confronting showing such depth of character.
And then there’s Agatha with the pretty hair.
“Let’s see what you’ve got,” says Crayton with a wink that is for me. It makes my heart wibble.Agatha
The fact that Elliot didn’t desensualise Agatha is empowering. Throughout my life and working experience of teenagers and adults with Downs Syndrome just like other teenagers they have been passionate in their crushes! It actually brought me so much joy to see her adolescence and desires not only acknowledged but celebrated by seeing Agatha speak about and gently appraising the boy characters! I love especially her crush on Crayton ‘he’s my favourite’ and how cheeky she is when given the chance!
This really is written from a place of love and respect in not ‘sanitising’ her more mature complexities of emotion nor making them a subject of derision.
I know I’d make a better Wasp than an Angler. If it were up to me, I would change duties in a heartbeat, but of course there is no possibility of that.Jaime
And then there’s Jaime who admittedly is not quite as awesome as Agatha, but he is in his own way because he represents many more complex changes that adolescents go through. He’s sensitive and has panic attacks, yet strong and protective to risking his life for others, he’s remarkably thoughtful in some situations and thoughtless to the point of prejudice in others.
Clayton acts as a counterpoint to Jaime, in his self assuredness, confident in his body and masculinity having grown up in a society that rallies around the well-being as much as the survival of the group allowing Jaime to compare and contrast his own upbringing and values.
It is interesting to see Jaime, who feels just as much an outsider as Agatha is made by their Clann. He struggles with both the ordered strict structures and rules of Clann de Tuath and being confronted with different lifestyles- a world that he squirmed in, watched in horror collapse, yet he traverses land and sea to fight for it AND questions parts of it over the course of the novel.
This complexity and inconsistency is not a flaw in the writing, it actually represents beautifully how many teenagers feel processing, deconstructing and rebuilding a new world around themselves. Whether teen or adult, most of us do not sit completely at the extremes of a philosophy or opinion, we sit somewhere in between with adoration for somethings and a discomfort with others- people are complex, not ‘flat’ and Jaime coming to terms with this is a really interesting part of the novel.
🚨 (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) 🚨
And there is growth, at one point in the book Jaime has a reaction which is deeply unpleasant and prejudiced and you will be disappointed in him. But he quickly realises what a total door-handle he is being and starts to think about where that prejudice comes from and he changes, grows and apologises which is a HUGELY important lesson for readers that one can make mistakes, but we are not cancelled forever. A person with good intentions is capable of apologising and to evolve and change because no-one is capable of being unattainably perfectly perfect from birth even if we try.
🚨 (Minor Spoiler Ends) 🚨
I took a big risk on you Agatha, but I’ve never once regretted it. And I have a feeling it’s about to pay off.
Overall, this is a book steeped in Magic and a mythic Scotland with terror beasties and shadows that I can’t say much more about unless I give massive spoilers away… but, it’s also a beautiful character piece full of heart that you will want to fight for, bring on more of this series!!!
The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott is published by Walker Books in the UK on February 6th and is already out to buy in the US.
Thank you to Walker for my early copy! 💜
I’ve been a bit worried to post this review I admit because of the recent conversations around Ableism and the anger about speaking for/on behalf of disabilities.
I hope I’ve not come across as disrespectful or ableist in any of my depiction and true and deep love of Agatha, whilst much of my appreciation comes from a place of familiar I myself do not have Down’s syndrome.
But I hope you get a feel for how wonderful she is, not in a patronising ‘because’ or ‘despite’ her differences way, or how she has rallied against/overcome them trope (she can’t really! and hasn’t she is just Agatha and all that is) because those differences aren’t distinct from her they are an embedded part of her and who she is as a whole amazing complex and fiercely marvellous character.
BUT if I have offended or upset in anyway I am happy to be corrected 💜