Podkin One-Ear

podkin-one-ear

Podkin One-Ear was written by Kieran Larwood and illustrated by David Wyatt. It was first published in 2016 and is a middle grade fantasy story which tells the tale of a warrior rabbit. While the novel reads as though it’s the first book in a series, at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Every bunny has heard of Podkin One-Ear – the legendary hero who saved all rabbitkind from the monstrous Gorm. Stories are told of the battles he fought against giants and vampire rabbits. Yet as a bard approaches the Thornwood Burrow on Bramblemas Eve, he brings with him a different tale. You see, he knows the true story of Podkin’s origins. And it’s not what a young rabbit may expect.

Before he was a warrior, Podkin was the spoiled son of a Chieftain. He knew that one day he’d inherit his father’s burrow and didn’t really care, instead shirking from his lessons to sleep or play. Yet things changed on Bramblemas Eve when the Gorm invaded his home. The Gorm were once rabbits but since they uncovered an evil artefact they became monsters of flesh and metal. Their leader – Scramashank – murders Podkin’s father and forces the young rabbit to flee into the night with his sister and brother, Paz and Pook.

That could have been the end of things, but Podkin took with him the Starclaw – a magical copper dagger sacred to his burrow. Somehow, the Gorm realise this and begin to relentlessly pursue him through the forest. Alone, Podkin and his family have no hope of escaping the monsters. Yet Podkin has an incredible destiny and soon finds that allies can be found in the strangest of places…

Before I begin, I think it’s time for a word of warning. While Podkin One-Ear is really targeted at pre-teen readers, it’s still surprisingly dark in places. By this, I don’t mean that it was unsuitable at all. There is nothing in the book that I would deem inappropriate for children aged 8 and up to read. But do be aware that it’s not always a happy story and there are several scenes that a sensitive reader might find distressing. While it’s never graphic, there are some parts that are a little violent (such as the loss of Podkin’s ear) and the Gorm are pretty frightening monsters. If you’re planning on giving this as a gift, you might just want to flick through it yourself first to be on the safe side.

I hope that doesn’t put you off too much, because Podkin One-Ear really is a fun read for a younger reader. The story is fast paced and very quick to grab your attention. The general feel of the story falls somewhere between Brian Jacques Chronicles of Redwall and Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Most of the book takes the form of a chase, with Podkin, Paz and Pook forced to flee from one place to the next as they avoid Scramashank’s army.

In terms of world-building, the book was pretty immersive. The world seems to be largely governed by anthropomorphic rabbits, while other small mammals like rats are used as beasts of burden. There is a vague mention to the fact that the book is set in our far future, after humans have gone extinct, but this is just a footnote. The story focuses on rabbit culture, introducing their way of life, religion and festivals in a way that was very easy for a reader to digest. This is also helped by the beautiful illustrations. Really, the hardback is worth buying for these alone. Wyatt’s artwork is superb and really helps to add character to the tale.

I also liked the way that the novel is structured. While I’m not generally a fan of tales within tales, the interludes with the bard helped to both build intrigue and lighten the tone. As bleak as Podkin’s tale could get in places, these chapters remind the reader that his struggles were in the past and that the Gorm (seemingly) no longer exist so everything must have turned out right for him in the end. They were amongst my favourite chapters in the book because they were surprisingly funny. The elderly bard is a character full of charm and his grumpy discussions with the young rabbits (many of whom are initially unimpressed by the lack of magic in his tale) ensured that the novel never became too grim.

Yet, for all its build up, the payoff was a little bit weak. The story gradually ramps up to a climatic scene where Podkin faces of with Scramashank. This showdown still felt a long time coming and was especially tense, given the odds that a child can beat an armoured warlord are slim. Yet this scene is over incredibly quickly. Seriously, the fight with Scramashank lasts less that two pages. Much more time is spent in the novel describing feasts! To make matters worse, after this the novel just kind of breaks off. I’ve got to assume that it’s leaving itself open for a sequel as the bard refers to this story as being a “beginning”. If it’s not, that makes the ending seem even weaker.

However, my biggest problem with the book is the characterisation. Podkin is an infuriating protagonist for many reasons. He’s petulant, whiny and seems to frequently get the credit for doing very little. Really, the book should not have focused on him at all. Paz is the true star of the show. She’s smarter, faster and a better fighter. Yet, ultimately, she gets side-lined.

Really, this is the novel’s biggest crime. Were it not for Paz, Podkin would have died when he lost his ear. From early in the story it’s implied that she’s better suited than him to be Chieftain (yet can’t because she’s a girl). However, Paz’s impact on the story peters out halfway through. Everyone is so focused on Podkin’s destiny that no one really pays any attention to her at all. Even when Paz proves to be a better sword fighter, their trainer just ignores this and reassures Podkin that he’ll be better than her one day! Screw Podkin. Paz is better all round and is certainly more deserving of being remembered.

As I’m starting to ramble, perhaps that it’s best that I wrap things up now. When I started reading Podkin One-Ear, I loved it. It’s dark, fast paced and has some great world-building. However, as I got further into the book I found myself growing increasingly frustrated. The side-lining of Paz and weak climax were disappointing and really tarnished my enjoyment of the story on the whole. If a sequel is written, I really hope that it addresses these issues. If it does, it’ll be a novel to look out for.

Podkin One-Ear can be purchased as a Hardback or eBook from Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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