Fans of Stig of the Dump or Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother series will very much enjoy Sophie Kirtley’s vivid, exciting and heart-warming Stone Age timeslip story. Charlie is confused and upset by the arrival of a new baby brother, particularly by the news that baby Dara is poorly and in intensive care. Running away into nearby words, Charlie finds a boy, hurt and on the point of drowning in the river. From then, things become very strange as Charlie realises that somehow she – or he, it could be either and we’re never told – has slipped back in time to the Stone Age. After a shaky start, not helped by the obvious problems of communication and understanding, the two children connect, and it emerges that they have quite a lot in common. The boy, Harby as Charlie calls him, also has a new baby sibling, who needs special and immediate care and attention. As they embark on a search for baby Mothga, they must confront wolves and other dangers of the forest, before finally finding her. By making Mothga safe, and helping Harby – or Hartboy as he’s really called – Charlie can find a way home.
There’s a beautiful sense of nature, both in the stone age scenes and the modern day ones, and I very much liked the descriptions of Stone Age life too. We’re not overwhelmed with detail but those details that are there – roasting of hazelnuts, strips of meat cooking over a fire, handprint paintings on a cave wall – feel all the more powerful and effective because of it. The mechanics of the timeslip are dextrously done too so that they never interrupt the storytelling; and Kirtley portrays the emotional truths of her story with equal skill, making that Charlie’s sense of loss, love and home as vivid and affecting as the encounters with wolves. This is Sophie Kirtley’s debut novel and very impressive.