CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 24. . . .February 25th, 2010.
The Limping Man. (The Salt Trilogy, Vol. 3).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2011.
195 pp., hardcover, $18.00.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Vikki VanSickle.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
*** / 4
Two men, stick-thin, like insects, parted the curtains at the side of the litter and the Limping Man appeared.
No one helped him. No one touched him. The silence in People’s Square was like the midnight silence of the burrows. The Limping Man placed a carved stick on the cobbles and levered himself and stood for a moment, making sure of his balance. Hana could not see his face. He was a small man, dressed in blood-red robes with yellow flames crawling upward from the hem and a cloth crown rising in folds and bulging at the back, where ribbons drooped over his shoulders like a waterfall. She had never seen a man dressed so foolishly. How could he hide? How could he get away when someone chased him? Then she remembered that he did not need to.
The Limping Man begins with young Hana hiding in a crawl space following the death of her mother who has committed suicide by swallowing poisonous frogweed rather than be burned at the stake. Hana’s home of Blood Burrow is being ransacked by the Limping Man and his followers who are burning women accused of being witches and drowning their male consorts. The Limping Man is an old, wizened figure who has the ability to control people with his mind. He demands loyalty, love and complete obedience from everyone who falls within the range of his power.
Hana narrowly escapes the Limping Man’s probing mind control by disappearing into the woods. She scrapes by, forming an odd relationship with a hawk. They speak to each other by sending visual images to each other’s minds. Eventually, she stumbles upon Danatok, a disgraced Dweller, who teaches her how to survive on her own. Danatok notices Hana’s relationship with Hawk and tells her that she has the ability to speak to birds, a gift that is rare and should be cherished. Hana is wary of labelling this gift as she fears discovery will result in her being burned as a witch, but secretly she takes pride in this relationship and works to strengthen the connection between her and Hawk.
It is not until Hana meets Ben, the son of wild man Lo, that she feels ready to return to the Burrows to confront and hopefully kill the Limping Man. When they witness his power firsthand, as he brings powerful twins, Blossom and Hubert, under his spell, Ben and Hana realize that, in order to kill The Limping Man, they need to discover the source of his evil power.
The Limping Man is the final book in Maurice Gee’s “Salt” trilogy. It is not a direct continuation of the stories in Salt or Gool, although it does contain some of the same characters and takes place in the same world. It could be read as a stand-alone novel, but the context of the previous two books will make for a richer reading experience. Like its predecessors, The Limping Man moves along very quickly. Gee’s writing is taut and visceral, leaving little time for meandering description or in-depth character development. The book is about big issues, such as absolute power corrupts absolutely and the triumph of good versus evil, and is not about individual characters or connection on a reader to character basis.
Parts of the book are very graphic and could be frightening to readers younger than twelve, such as the bounty hunters who are paid in silver for each thumb they cut off the hands of deserters or forest dwellers; the image of Hana hiding from the Limping Man’s henchmen by positioning herself beneath the corpse of an old woman in a swamp; and the over-sized, bulbous toads kept by the Limping Man for nefarious purposes. The Limping Man, himself, is a unique and chilling figure. In him, Gee has succeeded in creating a memorable villain.
The relationship between Hana and Hawk is one of the strongest elements in the novel. Hawk is wild and remains so, but he is protective of Hana and comes to her aid on more than one occasion. Even following an incident in which Hawk’s wing is damaged and he must submit to Hana’s care, he is still a fierce, wild creature. Hana, in turn, is protective of Hawk. Their relationship reminded me of other stories of female/animal companionship, namely Lyra and Pan in Phillip Pullman’s “Northern Lights” trilogy and Miyax and the wolf pack in Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves.
Although this is the final book in the ”Salt” trilogy, it ends in a way that allows the author room to pick up the story somewhere down the line. The story of Hana, Ben, and the Limping Man is concluded, but there isn’t much in the way of closure for the series as a whole. Recommended for strong readers.
Vikki VanSickle holds a Masters in Children’s Literature from the University of British Columbia. Currently, she is the manager of the Flying Dragon Bookshop in Toronto, ON. Her first children’s novel, Words That Start with B, is available from Scholastic Canada.
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