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‘Skrimsli’ by Nicola Davies – an exciting fantasy adventure

Cover Of Skrimsli By Nicola Davies
Cover of Skrimsli by Nicola Davies

Published by: Firefly, 2023. Available from Amazon.

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Skrimsli, an exciting new fantasy adventure novel by the prolific author Nicola Davies.

Skrimsli is the companion book to the highly-praised The Song That Sings Us. Both have dramatic cover illustration and chapter heading designs by Jackie Morris. In this new book we meet the new-born Skrimsli, the talking tiger who became a favourite character as the sea-captain in the earlier novel.

The story of Skrimsli

Like the first book in the series, Skrimsli is an epic, fast-moving and highly adventurous fantasy novel. Skrimsli, a tiger cub, is rescued by Owl from freezing to death in icy waters. He has many future dangers to encounter. He is captured by the cruel circus owner Kobret, and is subjected to breathtakingly fierce and deadly challenges in the circus ring, before he braves the mighty ocean. His story is entwined with that of Owl, Kal and the Palatine, in a complex plot which takes us and them in many directions. All must face the perils of imprisonment and isolation before they find their way to freedom.

The characters

Painting of Skrimsli the tiger by Jackie Morris
Skrimsli painted by Jackie Morris

Skrimsli abounds with characters that are extraordinary, colourful, dangerous and endangered. Some are human, some animal, some can talk, some can read others’ thoughts. This highly imaginative author introduces her characters in rapid succession and at first this presents the reader with the seemingly impossible challenge of keeping up with them and remembering who they are. But be delighted by them, enjoy them while they’re there, and be sure that if they’re important enough you’ll meet them again and get to know their role in this fast-paced adventure.

There are four main characters, Skrimsli, Owl, Kal and the Palatine, and they are the ones who hold the threads of the plot together and lead it to its heartwarming conclusion. The book opens with Owl, the boy with the face of an owl. He is my favourite character. Although he’s a child, abused as a ‘freak’, he shows courage and love. These important characteristics help him to persevere in spite of all the dangers he faces.

Kal, along with Luja his horse, witnesses the appalling massacre of the people of Talo. From then he is pursued by the perpetrators, and needs to disguise both himself and Luja in order to save their lives.

The Palatine is a desert princess, unjustly cast aside by her tyrannical brother. She comforts and supports Kal in his attempts to escape his relentless pursuers, and they become loving allies.

And of course there is the hero Skrimsli, brave and clever, a victim and a fighter. He had never been a creature of the wild, but it isn’t until the end of the book that he knows what his true destiny is.

The writing

What I loved most about The Song that Sings Us was the poetry that took us into the minds of the characters. In Skrimsli, I am full of admiration for the ingenious plotting. Some of the scenes are so well choreographed that they would work as a step-by-step storyboard for a movie. One such is one of the circus scenes – while the circus audience gasps with astonishment at the feats of the performers, the reader is breathlessly witnessing what is simultaneously happening backstage! The finale, too is carefully orchestrated in accounting for every important character. But is it the end …?

Congratulations again to Nicola Davies on another unusual, moving and very well-crafted book.

Nicola Davies explains to me how ‘Skrimsli’ was created

Skrimsli the tiger sea captain who first made an appearance in The Song that Sings Us now has almost a whole book to himself. It feels as if I didn’t invent him at all, but discovered him, fully formed when he leapt into the story in The Song That Sings Us.

The new story that carries his name begins at least a decade before the start of The Song That Sings Us, on the night of Skrimsli’s birth. When I started to write the only two things I knew about the story were that Skrimsli was born in a snow-stranded circus and that he ended up on the decks of a ship. Everything else I had to find out, uncovering the story as if digging it out of a snow drift.

The first thing I found was how Skrimsli got his name. Of course I know in my head that I named him and the process by which I do that is a long rabbit hole with many turns, involving multiple translations via Google Translate. But in the story Skrimsli’s first friend, who acts as a surrogate parent, a boy called Owl, is the one who pulls Skrimsli’s name from his own memory of a language he once spoke. So in the origin of my tiger’s name I learned the first few clues about Owl’s story and, like strands of twirled wool, their stories began to twist together.

Map drawn and painted by Jackie Morris, for Nicola Davies’ book Skrimsli
Map drawn and painted by Jackie Morris

The circus is a big part of the first section of the story – an old-fashioned one rather like the huge circuses that travelled by train across the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century. I spent a lot of time reading about these circuses and the impact they had on the small towns that they visited, about the relationships between humans and animals – those founded on care and love and those founded on cruelty. All of it went into the melting pot to create ‘Majak’s Marvellous Circus’ and its cruel tyrannical ringmaster Kobret Majak.

By the time I’d got to that stage the story was starting to have a life of its own, twisting to pull in strands of other characters and themes. I did a bit of steering, giving an airing to my feelings about the evils of colonial exploitation and military interventions; I made the plot exciting, adventurous and full of danger and beauty, but what emerged is a story about identity, belonging and finding your path in life. So although I think it is as much of a page-turner as The Song That Sings Us (readers report reading all night …) it is a more deeply emotional book too, that I hope will strike a chord with anyone who has ever asked themselves “who am I?” and “what am I doing here?”

I finished Skrimsli last summer and I have to say I was completely exhausted by the time I wrote the last chapter (completed in a frantic 24-hour non-stop sprint). Since then I’ve mostly been writing poetry but now the last part of my saga is beginning to whisper to me. As usual I’m not sure where the story will take me… all I know is that there is a lot of sea, that some characters familiar from the first two books will feature alongside some new ones and that Skrimsli will have some more adventures.

Thank you so much for this, Nicola – and I’m thrilled to know that there will be another book in the series. Watch this space!

Berlie Doherty

Berlie Doherty is the author of the best-selling novel, Street Child, and over 60 more books for children, teenagers and adults, and has written many plays for radio, theatre and television. She has been translated into over twenty languages and has won many awards, including the Carnegie medal for both Granny Was a Buffer Girl and Dear Nobody, and the Writers’ Guild Award for both Daughter of the Sea and the theatre version of Dear Nobody. She has three children and seven grandchildren, and lives in the Derbyshire Peak District with Alan James Brown. Her brand new novel for ages 10–14, The Haunted Hills, is out now, as is her novel for adults, Rose Doran Dreams. See the About me page for more information.

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