14th January 2000 at 00:00
THE SACRIFICE. By Diane Matcheck. Bloomsbury Children's Books pound;4.99.

There are good anthologies of Native American stories and sayings, but it is rare to have such a fine fictional insight into the cultural mindset of tribal people as Diane Matcheck gives us in hergripping first novel.

The Sacrifice is astonishingly accomplished. As late as 1817, the Pawnee sacrificed humans to the Morning Star god and the progress of an unwitting captive towards such a gruesome end is at the heart of the book.

A young Apsaalooka girl sets out to avenge her father's death. Afte surviving terrifying ordeals she is captured by Pawnee warriors and watched over by Wolfstar, a boy around her own age. She is treated with great kindness and respect and the full horror of her situation only gradually dawns on her.

This is not only a spectacular adventure story but also a deeply moving rite-of-passage tale. Where Matchek has triumphed is in allowing us to enter into and respect tribal attitudes which, without our empathy with her extraordinary heroine, we would find at best alien. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Janni Howker

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