Outcast by Michelle Paver. (Grades 5-8.)
Torak has a secret. It's a terrible secret. A secret that he's kept even from his best friend Renn of the Raven Clan. It's a secret that could get him banned from the clan. And the worst part is that it's not Torak's fault. In fact, he'd do anything to get rid of it.
Torak's been branded with the mark of the Soul Eaters. It happened to him against his will, done by the evil Viper Mage Seshru. When the leader of the Raven Clan finds out, he is obligated to follow clan law and Torak is cast out. Now Torak is dead to the clan members. He has one day to get as far away as possible because any person who spots him must try to kill him.
And still the Viper Mage runs free.
Torak's wanderings take him to the lake where the Otter Clan resides and he can tell there is some serious evil going on. The lake is sick, the people protecting themselves any way possible. And Torak is soul-sick, feverish and confused. He knows he has to find and defeat Seshru. But how can he do it alone? And how can he accept help knowing it's against clan law, that his best friends might become outcasts for helping him?
This is the fourth book in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series and, like the others, it is packed with non-stop action. You'll definitely want to read the first three because this book picks up right where the third leaves off. I actually wish I had gone back and reread the first three before I picked this one up because I was a tiny bit hazy on the details from the previous books.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm not a series person. However, I find the world of Torak and Wolf and Renn to be so absorbing and detailed that it's hard to put it down. One of the first things I noticed is that Michelle Paver continues with her very detailed, lush descriptions of the forest and all the wildlife. Her descriptions really make this ancient forest come to life. I felt like I was running right alongside Torak the whole time whether he was hunting, running with Wolf, or getting a shelter together. This book is obviously meticulously researched just as her others have been.
We get several different perspectives throughout the book - Torak, Renn, and Wolf. I've always loved Wolf's sections because I find them absolutely believable. Though he's a wolf, he's a real character in this series. He feels emotions and reasons things out, but he doesn't do it like a human would. His voice has always felt very real to me. We're also getting some pretty heavy emotional content from Torak and Renn. They're starting to grow up and there are hints of the strengthening bond between them. Throughout the course of the book each one feels betrayed by the other, complicating their feelings for one another.
I thought Outcast was a great addition to the series and I'm already looking forward to whatever Michelle Paver will add next! Y'all know that the first book in the series is Wolf Brother, which is nominated for a Caudill this year. I've met some kids this year who are very into these books and I'm hoping that the book being nominated will encourage other kids to pick it up and discover this awesome series.
Chronicles of Ancient Darkness Series:
1. Wolf Brother
2. Spirit Walker
3. Soul Eater