There’s a perfect example in Ruth Eastham, with her latest page-turner, Arrowhead, a case in point, so to speak.
Ruth made a fine impression with her first award-winning novels, 2011’s The Memory Cage and 2012’s The Messenger Bird, two brilliantly-observed teen reads that fit neatly into her description of ‘edgy fiction where past meets present’.
I’ll discuss those in greater length soon, with plans afoot to pin this well-travelled Lancashire-born author down for an interview. But this time she’s turned her expert hand to Norse and Viking mythology, with an equal degree of success.
Arrowhead tells the tale of 13-year-old Jack, a ‘new kid’ in a town near the Arctic Circle, originally from the North-East of England but with Norwegian parents.
Like his mum, Jack is struggling to come to terms with his dad’s death, despite the support of Gran and Gramps – who run the local cafe – and his dog, Sno.
Early on, we get a flavour of Jack as he stands up to defend Skuli, a bullied fellow outsider at his school, this short and stocky fisherman’s son singled out as ‘part-troll’ by his peers.
The pair’s budding friendship leads to Jack’s classmate letting him in on a discovery, and one that threatens to unleash evil on the world.
Sounds far-fetched? Well, not with Ruth’s touch, a measured mix of well-researched myths and believable story-telling keeping readers – of all ages – gripped.
When I suggest boys will love this, I should add that Ruth writes equally-believable female characters, and in Arrowhead, Jack and Skuli are joined by similarly-resolute Emma, another reluctant to go with the crowd, keen to find her own path.
There are supernatural and spiritual elements too, real or imagined, as Jack gets to know and understand a boy whose parallel life many centuries before just might hold the key to salvation.
Our ice warrior trio have plenty to stand up to in a disturbing turn of events, amid talk of Odin’s revenge, the four deadly plagues and their effect on this small town, its adults and children.
And while the grown-ups are left lethargic and largely confined to their homes by these odd goings-on, the kids appear increasingly set on mindless violence and destruction, running rampant, standing between our heroes and their quest.
In such a threatening atmosphere, word of sacrificial hangings suggests to this reader The Wicker Man for high school readers. In fact, think Nordic Noir for teens.
There are wider themes too, sub-texts about herd mentality, finding your own way, and that age-old battle for good and the truth. But it’s certainly pacy too.
The author tells in her notes how she was inspired to write Arrowhead by previous Scandinavian travels – her imagination running wild at the thought of melting glaciers in the Land of the Midnight Sun. Equally, past trips to Lindisfarne had an effect, as you might expect from that window on history on the Northumberland coast.
She also paints a vivid picture of a wilderness community that could as easily be imagined to be North America as this tucked-away town in a sheltered bay beneath a mountainous backdrop.
Ruth indirectly tackles global warming too, and brings in the plundered treasures of Viking raids on English monasteries. But this is far more than a historic and mythological epic tackling modern issues.
To work for its target audience, it also has to be an adventure appealing to those with a craving for the extreme.
And she achieves that, providing a well thought-out plot, flowing prose and plenty of descriptive detail, while keeping us feeling part of the story, and believing in her characters’ defining traits.
What’s more, the writing’s often as sharp as the Arrowhead of the title.
Arrowhead is available now from all good bookshops and several online retailers, published by Scholastic and priced £6.99. I dare say there are digital offers out there too. For more details, try Ruth’s website here.