________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 15 . . . . March 31, 2006



Cathy Brown Murphy.
St. John's, NL: Tuckamore Books, 2004.
127 pp., pbk., $11.95.
ISBN 1-894294-75-0.

Subject Headings:
Ravens-Juvenile fiction.
Nature-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Libby McKeever.

***½ /4


Wulf stared at the doorway, uncertain. Was it safe? The memory of his collision with the window was still fresh in his mind. But then he thought of Whitewing and Loki and Hesperus. How happy they would be to see him, alive and well! Spreading his wings, Wulf sailed through the doorway and up into the sky. He breathed deep the fresh, cold air. He was free!

The man and the dog stood in the doorway, tiny figures looking up at him. Sam waved his arm and on impulse, Wulf dipped his wing in response. Soon, they were far behind him.

He had to circle a few times to get his bearings. Though the morning sun was buried beneath heavy clouds, Wulf knew the roost area lay in that direction. Cold specks began drifting down from above as he headed east. Because it was new to him, the snow made him uneasy at first. The world grew blurry beneath the white-flecked sky. Familiar landmarks faded. But as the flakes melted into icy droplets against his feathers, Wulf realised that the snow was just like rain, just heavier and colder.

When he came in sight of the roost, he called out to let his friends know that he was coming. But no raven voice responded and no one flew to meet him. Wulf glided into the grove of trees. It was silent, empty. He had just decided they were all away foraging, when a crumpled black heap on the forest floor caught his eye. With a cry of alarm, he flew down to investigate. As he feared, the battered body of a raven lay there on the cold ground. Gently, he turned the stiff, frozen form over for a closer look. And then he shrieked in anguish.

It was Loki.


Wulf and his two other hatchlings, the courageous Hesperus and the smaller, fun-loving Loki, were taught by their parents, Darkfeather and Silver, that young ravens need to heed the dangers that enemies present. Tired of being chastised like a newborn, Wulf practices his "skydancing," pushing himself to try more difficult and daring feats of speed and agility. After misjudging the surprising updraft that came from the monstrous trucks that sped along the black ribbons of tar, Wulf is shaken but not deterred. The young raven is shocked to discover that his most dangerous enemy and subsequently a barrier to his survival actually comes in the form of another raven. Vengeful and black-hearted, Chaos is a powerful old raven who holds a bitter grudge against Wulf's father, Silver, and his brood. It becomes apparent that Silver was a factor in the death of Chaos's beloved mate, Silken. Chaos holds Silver responsible for his loss, and it is clear after he brutally attacks Wulf that he means to seek revenge by hurting Silver's young.

     The attack has left Wulf unable to fly, and Silver encourages Darkfeather to abandon him and spend her energy looking after the hatchlings that are strong and able. Wulf's mother cannot leave her son, and so she guides the injured and frightened Wulf to a safe grove in the woods. Wulf, growing stronger and more determined, finally returns to his family's roost, though it is not long before life changes again for the young ravens.

     It took the three siblings a hungry day and a lonely night to realize that their parents had left and that it was time that they struck out on their own. Wulf knew that, if they stayed in the familiar trees around their family's roost, Chaos would find them and pick them off one by one. Striking out east, they flew on, their destination the vast sea that Hesperus remembers from their mother's stories.

     After they join a band of other young ravens who live in the bountiful forest by the ocean, life becomes calmer, and they each find themselves being accepted into the clan. However, one day, a misstep causes Wulf to become entangled in some fishing line. Recognizing his fate, the otherravens do their best to comfort him, but it is the intervention of a kindly human that saves Wulf. Some time later, jubilant in his recovery, Wulf makes his way back to the band's territory only to find the roost abandoned, and shockingly his brother, Loki, dead. Wulf realizes that Chaos has found his way to them and now the siblings have brought their enemy to threaten their new friends' home. Wulf is visited in a dream by a beautiful raven who guides him to his friends and to an ultimate showdown with their mortal enemy, Chaos.

     Skydancer will be enjoyed by those readers who embraced the adventures of Shade in Kenneth Oppel's Silverwing, Sunwing and Firewing. The author has created a fast moving animal fantasy that combines a strong protagonist with a convincing cast of supporting characters. These characters connect with readers, thereby enabling them to empathize with Wulf's plight and to rejoice in his victories.

Highly Recommended.

Libby McKeever is a Library Assistant at Whistler Secondary School in Whistler, BC, and a Library Technician student.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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