Book Review: Potter’s Boy by Tony Mitton  

Published by David Fickling Books

I’m not usually much drawn to novels with very remote settings but this coming of age story takes us to medieval Japan and it’s a real page turner.

Ryo is the son of an accomplished potter. When he meets a gentle, hugely intelligent, charismatic soldier, he decides that he wants to leave his village and train to be like him. Wisely, but sadly, his father agrees and Ryo sets off. What follows is a journey in every sense – the teenager walks a long way meeting various people en route and eventually finds a master to train him. Then he’s taken to a training camp where he makes friends. At last he is a member of an elite group – so elite that the emperor sends for them. Of course, there are twists, surprises, losses and – for Ryo, at least, some gains in the form of enhanced self knowledge. Mitton spares us none of the devastating things which befall Ryo. Perhaps he isn’t meant for a warrior after all. Echoes of the parable of the prodigal son.

Tony Mitton is an award winning poet and this is his debut novel. The Japanese landscape and wildlife are skilfully evoked although it’s the action which dominates.  By any standards it is quite an achievement and deserves to be read by lots of teenagers many of whom will be thinking hard about pathways and choices. I liked everything about it except the rather clumsy framing device which tries (and fails) to transform a third person narrative into a first person, quasi-autobiographical story.

Review by Susan Elkin