“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Do any bookworms actually follow this advice? I know (following a recent #banterwithbooksellers over on twitter) that myself and many of my fellow booksellers definitely do not, instead “Magpie Reading” (term coined by Ceris!) – homing in on those books with beautiful/intriguing/unusual covers. And that was definitely the case with Sylvia Linsteadt’s ‘The Wild Folk’.
As soon as this appeared on my trolley for shelving, I felt that Magpie at work: the cover is gorgeous. But this is no surprise when you find out it was designed by Sandra Dieckmann, creator of ‘Leaf‘. As with the illustrations in Leaf, the cover of The Wild Folk is bursting with life, and as with Leaf, as well as being a fantastic, folklore-style adventure The Wild Folk also contains a pretty stark message about the importance of looking after our ‘wild world’.
In the land of Farallone, City boy Tin and Country girl Comfrey are guided on a quest by two young hares.
Their task is to save the mystical Wild Folk from destruction. But the Wild Folk don’t trust humans, and the children face impossible challenges and meet extraordinary creatures as they battle to save the land they love.
There is SO much I want to say about this book I don’t know where to begin. I suppose the first thing to say before I get into the story in detail is that it inevitably draws comparisons to other books/characters, particularly in the fantasy realm (there is more than a hint of Narnia with a definite Aslan-ness to the Elk of Milk and Kindness, and I’ve seen many references to Le Guin’s Earthsea…which ok, I admit, I still haven’t read…*hides in a corner*). Similarly, there are some all-too familiar scenarios here: a missing father, main characters who must learn to overcome their differences to work together and trust each other, an orphan who doesn’t remember his parents living in a home run by the strict and cruel Brothers of Albion…
But, and it’s an important ‘but’, they are unique enough, important enough to the story and well-written enough to avoid cliché, and there is enough about the story which is entirely new and original to balance out the areas that tread some familiar ground. For me, this is huge in showing the promise of a book that will not only be a thoroughly enjoyable read, but one that will stand both the test of time and multiple re-readings, and I think the Wild Folk (and it’s sequel – due in Spring ’19) will do just that.
Cleverly beginning by switching between our City-dwelling hero Tin and his (in no way mousey) Country-mouse counterpart Comfrey before gradually bringing their stories closer and closer together, until they meet and their stories merge worked incredibly well.
Firstly, this provided an opportunity to really get to know our main characters – both Tin and Comfrey, and Myrtle and Mallow: the two leverets sent to aid them on their quest. All are incredibly likeable without being at all flat, and very much bringing their own qualities, personalities and voices to the story.
It also served brilliantly to delve into the background of City and Country and show the differences in lifestyle and beliefs between the places. As with the characters, each place has a distinct feel to it and each world is built wonderfully (as are the various places the children travel through around Farallone on their quest): there is a dark and grimy, almost steam-punk feel to the City which contrasts superbly with the wholesome, old-fashioned feel of the Country.
Through this, it is impossible to ignore the messages that run through the book, both environmental and social: the devastating effect ‘Fake News'(to use some much more modern terminology!), segregation and fear of differences can have, not to mention the devastating effect humans can – and do – have on the wild. With City, Country and Wild folk all mistrusting and judging each other, pre-conceived ideas and must be addressed in order to save Farallone.
The book has more than a touch of folklore and fairytale magic to it (it has a map, which is always a promising start!). Upon encountering the word ‘tatterdemalion’ (what a wonderful word it is too!) I needed to look it up and found that Linsteadt also has an adult novel with the same title which is also firmly rooted in myth and legend: she clearly has a passion for it and a writing style that is more than up to the task if The Wild Folk is anything to go by (watch this space for a review of Tatterdemalion at some point!).
There is the story of Farallone itself – the legend which provides the backbone of the book, then there are smaller tales-within-the-tale passed down through generations of country/wild folk. The story itself encompasses many characters and events which feel like they’ve stepped straight out of a folk tale or fable – The Greentwins are a case in point – as well as deliberate re-imaginings: the chapter on the Baba Ithá was one of my favourite parts in the whole book – loved it, LOVED IT, LOVED IT!
Highly recommended for older MG readers (or those who enjoy a longer, more challenging read), as well as adults and older readers who enjoy a healthy dose of folklore in their reading, this is a highly original, incredibly well-drawn fantasy adventure. With Grizzly Witches, underground networks and mechanical spiders, Fools and their Oddities and a stunning setting brilliantly described this is a fantastic story not to be missed.
Thanks to Usborne for my review copy.