Song for a Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt, paperback novel, 315 pages, published by Allen & Unwin in 2013.
Peat was cast out by her village as a baby for nothing more than her red hair and different coloured eyes. She is banished along with her sister and mother to the Overhang, where they tend the cows and make cheese for the village. A village that is four days walk away with no other settlements in any direction, only marshes and the Badlands. They live a life of work and isolation, until a stranger appears on the road from the Badlands. He continues on to the village, but brings with him a terrible disease, a disease that hits the village hard, and for which Peat is blamed. Suddenly she finds herself running for her life, knowing she cannot return, but not knowing where she might go either.
Peat encounters a small reddish furred creature with small sharp claws and teeth, which attacks her, steals her food, and then saves her life. She calls him the sleek, and he guides her through the marshes, helping her, feeding her, and occasionally biting or scratching her. The sleek leads her to a island in the marshes where she is trapped by a Marsh Auntie called Eadie. Peat finds herself learning the art of storytelling from the old healer. But, the healer has a secret, a long while before, she made a bargain and now she must pay up, and Peat is the price. Peat is trapped again, this time in a strange, far away land where time has stopped, and her only companions are a little boy that is 900 years old and his ghostly hound, who are also trapped there. Together and with the help of the sleek, can they find a way to escape, to re-enter the world they once lived in? Can they find the happy ending to their own stories?
An excellent read, Song for a Scarlet Runner, was unputdownable, a truly magnificent novel for younger readers from Julie Hunt. This fantasy adventure story was engaging and exciting, with vivid landscapes and detailed characters. The descriptive qualities of this novel were superb, bringing the adventure to life. I could hear the sleek chittering in impatience at Peat, see the multi-pocketed coat that Eadie always wore, and feel the wiry hair of the giant hound as they rode him away from the river. I became immersed in the story as I followed Peat through misfortune, injustice, friendship and love. Ultimately this was a journey of discovery to find her place in the world, and though pushed to take the first steps along the road, Peat makes the most of this opportunity to create her own destiny.
Song for a Scarlet Runner would be most suitable for middle to upper primary school children, though I would be happy for my second grader to read this book. The length of the novel is probably more prohibitive to very young readers than the content or the language. Though, as always, parents should help guide their children to make good book choices for their reading ability and interests. And, of course, reading a book like this with or to your child can be very rewarding!