Rating: ***** 5
The Kite Rider.
Oxford University Press, 2001
The scene is China, at the time of Kublai Khans
Mongol conquest. Haoyou, aged twelve, has seen his
sailor father die when chosen to take part in an embarkation
ritual to determine whether a ships voyage will
be prosperous. A man is bound to a kite, a wind-tester,
which is flown to supply an augury of success or failure.
Haoyous father is the victim of a corrupt First
Mate who hopes to marry his widow, Haoyous mother.
But unlike his father, Haoyou is at home with flight.
He is a kite-maker, and to protect his mother from
the First Mates designs and the tyranny of family
elders, he becomes also a kite-rider, taking his own
dangerous turn to fly among the clouds. His skill
and courage take him far into China, first as a new,
crowd-stirring act in the Jade Circus, then as eyes-in-the-sky,
a new reconnaissance weapon for the Khans army.
McCaughreans novel has two main themes. One
is family, the spiritual power of its dead, the often
undeserved, misused authority of its living seniors,
and the onus of duty and obedience on the young. To
protect his family, Haoyou must violate the rigid
code of conduct it has taught him. The other theme
is the fear and ecstasy of flight, and the wondrous
sky-realm of clouds, lightning, gods and spirits.
The two subjects blend in an original and exciting
story. Time and place are exotic, but Haoyous
tough journey to mental freedom is thoroughly modern.
Guide to the rating system:
***** 5 stars, unmissable
**** 4 stars, very good
*** 3 stars, good
** 2 stars, fair
* 1 star, poor