A new imprint from Head of Zeus and a lovely launch title for it…

The White Hare by Michael Fishwick

Head of Zeus, not content with launching their Apollo imprint for reprints last year, have now launched another. Zephyr will be for children’s books and I’m delighted to be the penultimate stop on the blog tour for its launch title, The White Hare, a novel for 12+ by Michael Fishwick.

It’s a lovely thing too, with a gorgeous cover design and chapter heading illustrations by Emma Eubank, produced in hardback with a blue ribbon bookmark. Given the subject of the book’s title, it’s entirely appropriate that The White Hare is published in March – the mad month of hares’ courtship rituals.

The story begins with a boy setting fire to a groundsman’s hut at the rec, nearly trapping himself inside the fence. This short introductory chapter introduces one of the key themes of the novel. Fire, as a elemental transformative power, as well as this initial expression of repressed anger, will crop up throughout the book.

Cut to the countryside; Mags has come for Robbie to show him something:

When he was allowed to raise his face clear of the mud and scrape it from his eyes, Robbie saw, about twenty metres away, something that at first looked to him like a star fallen to earth, dazzling but hard to define.
His eyes focused.
‘What’s that?’ he asked. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’
‘A hare. She’s a hare,’ said Mags. She was older than him by a few years and treated him like her little brother.
‘How do you know it’s a she?’ he asked, and Mags replied, ‘It’s her, it’s always her.’ (p4)

This is our first of many encounters with the beautiful white hare that runs in the moonlight and only shows herself to few folk, those who won’t hunt her.

It’s a great way to introduce us to the two teenaged protagonists of the novel. In the following pages, we get to find out a bit more about them. Robbie is 14, and has just moved from the town to the country, ‘he’d just swapped tarmac and high-rise for fields‘.  His dad has taken them back to his home village, to the house that had been in the family for ages – now a bit of a doer-upper.  Them – is Robbie, his Dad, his new stepmum Sheila and her daughters Jess and Lucy.

Mags grew up in Robbie’s family house, her family were tenants, she loved it. She is wild about animals, but especially hares, of which she seems to know many myths and legends about them including a poem that is a list of names given to hares – here are some of them, Mags will tell Robbie many more lines and verses a little later:

The hare-ling, the frisky one,
Old Turpin, the fast traveller.

The lurker in ditches, the filthy beast,
The one who doesn’t go straight home, the traitor,
The friendless one, the cat of the wood.

The stag with the leathery horns,
The animal that dwells in the corn,
The animal that all men scorn,
The animal that no one dare name.

In the first few chapters of the novel we also realise that the first chapter was Robbie, aged eleven, angry and grieving after the death of his mum. Setting fire to things calmed him down, but he got caught and sent to a youth detention centre for arson.

Robbie begins to settle into his new life, going out on adventures into the countryside with Mags, making friends with Alice one of just three black kids at his new school – he stands up for Alice too against the school bully.

Then someone paints the word ‘RUN’ on their cottage’s thatch. It’s a mystery as to who did it and what it means. Mags has a theory. It’s all related to the sightings of the white hare, and as Mags opens up to Robbie a little at a time, he hears about a girl who died before he moved to the village. Robbie feels compelled to find out more and how this links to the white hare, but that way danger lies…

This novel was a pleasure to read, steeped as it was in nature and country ways of life – but however bucolic this sounds, it is no rural idyll. Modern families moving to the country face many challenges, from just getting about, to not being surrounded by everyone, but also that those there seem to know all about you before you know about them.

Robbie is streetwise and tough though and this translates well at school, but he is slightly scared of the countryside. Mags, however, intoning her hare wisdom, is like a young shaman appearing older than her teenaged years, but then coming back down to earth to talk about being grounded by her mum just like a normal adolescent. Alice, is just adorable.

And weaving its way through the text, loping and bounding is the white hare and all that it symbolises. Local myths from around the country say that the white hare is the spirit of a pure maiden that loved  a man who betrayed her, returned to haunt him. The white hare is woven into the narrative delicately and, although imbued with a little magic realism, always feels totally natural and of the land.

Fishwick has created a wonderfully atmospheric novel. It’s a real achievement to combine a family drama about grief, family and friends with a central mystery which has a dangerous edge to it, all magically bound up in nature and legend, but Fishwick has done it with consummate skill. This novel should delight the 12+ audiences of its primary target, but it also entranced me. (9/10)

Source: Publisher – thank you.

Michael Fishwick, The White Hare (Zephyr, March 2017) Hardback, 248 pages.

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