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What's the story?
In a world very similar to ours in the pre-industrial era, a tsunami wipes out a south-Pacific island tribe except for one boy, Mau; and a British girl, Ermintrude, is the only survivor of a shipwreck on that island. Together they help care for other refugees who arrive on the island, learn about one another's culture and language, and prepare for the inevitable coming of the cannibal Raiders, who may be helped by mutineers set adrift from Ermintrude's ship before it was wrecked.
Is it any good?
Fans of author Terry Pratchett's other books for children may be surprised by this one. Instead of Discworld, the setting is mostly in the south Pacific a couple of centuries ago. Missing is the riotous humor (though Pratchett being Pratchett, there is always some wit and cleverness) and the fantasy elements. In their place is some pretty deep thinking about the natures and relationships among men and women, gods, and civilizations. Rarely has Pratchett so clearly shown his warm, humanist nature, nor so firmly taken his readers hand in hand down a path towards thinking more deeply about their common humanity. This should be a favorite in literature circles and discussion groups.
All of that philosophy, though, comes at the expense of some of the action, and there are places in this book that bog down a bit; after the exciting opening chapters, the real plot only happens in the second half. But the reader is carried along by some of Pratchett's best characters ever, most especially Mau and Ermintrude. There is little more enthralling than watching young people wrestle with doing the right thing while trying to get a grip on reality. This book may not have everything Pratchett's young fans have learned to expect in his books, but they may get something else they hadn't bargained for.
From the Book:
"Are you from the government?" the captain snapped.
Mr. Black looked surprised. "The government? I am afraid not. Just between us, there is little of the government left at the moment, and what there is is mostly hiding in its cellars. No, to be honest with you, the government has always found it convenient not to know much about us, and I would advise you to do the same."