Finding an old book about teenage love and axe heads
November 20, 2009 2:27 PM   Subscribe

[Bookfinder filter] Trying to find a book I read at school, in the UK, in about 1987. It was a book for teenagers, with two interweaving stories across different times: one thread involved a teenage couple in modern times, and the other thread was about some Norse warriors, including a berserker, in ancient England. The two threads were tied together by an ancient axe head. The final section of the book was written in a cipher.

Bits I can remember: The berserker character hiding somewhere and holding the axe during some crisis, the teenagers in modern times finding the axe-head somewhere. The two teenagers meeting in a cathedral, and using a code to write to each other.

The reason I want to find the book: The last 10 or so pages were hand-written in a weird code based on rectangles and dots. It was the code that the teenage couple had used to write to each other, and I think the last 10 pages were a coded letter from one of them to the other. At the time when I first read the book, I could not crack the code, so I never found out how the book ended.

Years and years later, I realised that the characters must have been using the Pigpen cypher - the book was quite sneaky in that it described how the code looked, but didn't give you enough info to actually translate it without outside help.

From what I remember, it was a pretty good book, and I'd love to track it down now and work out the ending.

This is all a bit of a longshot, but you never know with the power of the interwebs these days. Thanks!
posted by memebake to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Red Shift?
posted by MasonDixon at 2:41 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wahay! thats it!

Red Shift by Alan Garner

hmm... reading that plot synopsis, its a much darker book than I remember, and perhaps not aimed at school kids after all. Sounds fascinating though, and the wikipedia page decodes the pages that I never could.

Thanks MasonDixon.
posted by memebake at 2:47 PM on November 20, 2009

Response by poster: heh ... the amazon reviews for the book are full of reviews by people who read it at school like me ... it obviously made some big impressions ...
posted by memebake at 2:54 PM on November 20, 2009

I read this in my mid-teens and was amazed/bewildered by it--my mind was still vividly populated by scenes and characters from it years later, and still is, though that's partly because I re-read it fairly recently (well, within the last five years). However, I never got round to deciphering the coded section at the end of the book. Looking at the transcription on Wikipedia, I wish I had, though I think the book would then have left me in even more, smaller pieces than it already had.

Anyway--just to say that it's not two story threads but three, the third being set (I think) during the Civil War. This is the one were, if I remember rightly, most of the sections end with the words "I hope I live to see your coffin walk."

Okay, might have to pick up my bought-much-later copy of this when I'm at my mum's for Christmas. That copy, incidentally, looks very much like a paperback publication for adults rather than teenagers. Which is fair enough, and a damn site more appropriate than the Harry Potter 'grown-up editions'.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 7:56 PM on November 20, 2009

If you enjoyed Alan Garner's books that were ostensibly for young adults, try reading his his more recent books, Thursbitch and Strandloper, which although quite different from each other are unforgettably powerful.
posted by patricio at 3:39 AM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think his best are Elidor and The Owl Service, but he hasn't written anything bad.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:17 PM on November 21, 2009

Response by poster: Read the book again this week - a very good book, and some of it is very bleak. I think there must have been a lot of bits I didn't understand when I was 14. And I have remembered some of the details wrongly (it was 2 pages of code, not 10, and it was a substitution lewis-carrol code, not the masonic one)
posted by memebake at 3:24 PM on December 12, 2009

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