SHADOW-HAWK, by Garry Kilworth
Orbit, 1999, 434pp, 6.99
ISBN 1-85723-742-0

See also my review of The Songbirds of Pain

'The writer had a review to complete, but though he had written plenty before he didn't know how to begin. Suddenly he had an idea and wrote it down. Eventually he had four ideas. His review was only short, like Tipporitter, the native god of writers...'

Shadow-Hawk confused me terribly when I read it. Most of the story is told as above, in blocky expository sentences. In fact it reads like many of the Juveniles I read when younger, but just when you're convinced it is a Juvenile there can suddenly appear a mention of sex or some gross-out violence that jars absolutely with the style.

Garry Kilworth has had an impressive number of books published, and many of them have been Juveniles, which makes me wonder if he hasn't been afflicted by a literary synaesthesia, writing in "Juvenile" for an "Adult" audience (my humble apologies to all Juvenile writers reading this, I am stereotyping all of your work in my own, dated, recollections).

But. Shadow-Hawk is a historical yomp around the fringes of the British Empire circa 1880, where the assuredness of the Empire fades into the mysteries of the rainforest and indigenous legends. Basically, two competing expeditions, one officially sanctioned and one not, strike out into the inexplicable forest looking for the seven ancient heads of the Punan - 'It is said that possession of these seven heads will lead to untold riches.' I've checked and double-checked, but this rather flimsy premise is the basis of the entire plot.

Kilworth's English characters just aren't Victorians - they could be transplanted into a modern context without any difficulty whatsoever. There is a fair bit of colourful local detail included, something Kilworth has specialised in previously it seems, but even this feels as though it's been crudely stuck on with prodigious amounts of Sellotape.

I couldn't recommend Shadow-Hawk at all, not even if Baneoftheauthor'slife, reviewing demon of the Dayak tribe, were to demand it of me!

Buy it from Amazon.co.uk