I had to look back over the past year's books to confirm this, but I think this was the most pleasant surprise of 2018. 'Podkin One-Ear' is the first book in the Longburrow series (known as Five Realms in the U.K.) which brings us to an Earth of the distant future where the dominant species are rabbits that have evolved into an intelligent, bipedal, medievalesque society. Which I love so much more than the usual this is a land of talking critters. I love you 'Redwall' but, yeah.
The story is framed so that the events of young Podkin's life are set in the past, some two or three generations ago, and are being told to young rabbits on the eve of a winter festival. It involves a time when the land was invaded by a terrifying force, known as the Gorm, that corrupted warrens and destroyed many lives. Podkin, a chieftain's son prone to slacking, is left homeless and on the run with his brave sister Paz and infant brother Pook. Together they have to make it through the cold winter, find shelter and warn others of the danger behind them. Their only weapon is a magic ancestral sword given into their safekeeping and the Gorm will stop at nothing to take it from them.
This is a story of family and friendship, of learning from one's mistakes, and finding the courage to do what's necessary. 'Podkin' delivers on adventure and some very real scares. This is writing that is appropriate for younger readers, ages 9-12 depending on their level, but it doesn't pander to them. I often find myself qualifying middle grade novels because I shouldn't expect storytelling savvy, epic world-building, and strong characters in a children's book, but Kieran Larwood meets a standard equal to other greats in young people's fantasy from Diana Wynne Jones to Lloyd Alexander.
Next: 'The Gift of Dark Hollow'