Book Reviews

There May Be A Castle : Piers Torday

There May Be a CastleThere May Be a Castle by Piers Torday

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I suspect there may be awards in this book’s future. It is a bath-go-cold sort of book; a wheeling, soaring skim through a car journey that goes very wrong and then into somewhere else. Somewhere other. And it’s in this other place that young Mouse has just woken up. His mother isn’t here. Neither are his sisters. It’s just Mouse, a sarcastic talking horse and a sheep that says baa.

And Mouse knows exactly what to do in such fantastical, quest-beginning, sort of circumstances : he is to find the castle. He is to be the hero.

It’s hard to talk about this nuanced, rich book without spoiling elements of it so forgive me if I generalise occasionally. I will try not to, but I want to tell you about how perfect There May Be A Castle is and I want to sort of tell it whilst I’m still lost in it. This is a book that I don’t want to step back from. I think Torday’s getting better – and he was wonderful beforehand. There May Be A Castle feels stronger, somehow, more potent (and again, I say this with the caveat of how wonderful Torday’s other work is). It’s a book that is almost palpable with intent – and freedom. It revels in its space. It knows its space. It is a space of fantasy and of otherness, but also of bravery. Both Mouse and his sister face quests of their own, quests that rely intensely on bravery and being able to take control of the apparently uncontrollable.

I love this book. I love the strength of the protagonists. I love how confident it feels, how potent and powerful it is, and I love it and hate it and love it for the way it made me weep at the ending. I love how it smashes fairytales firmly into the present and makes them into something wonderfully profound and awful and brilliant and gorgeous. It is layered and rich and wonderful and I love it, I love it.

There May Be A Castle is due out on October 6th. I would mark the date.

My thanks to Quercus for the review copy.

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Everything else

A wild beginning

A New Year. A New Year, with all the inevitability, hope and curious letdown of another night, and another day and another morning and another evening. Another number notched. Another year rolled into. Another year done.

It’s raining. It’s rained on and off for a good week now; blanket-thick, grey, fat rolls of rain that smother the light from the day and turn everything into twilight. What else to do on such a day than to hole up and burrow down and read.

I’m reading.

I’m bathing in a sea of comic books, with plots so dense and abstract, that I wallow in the dynamism of the page, and of the colours, and the sharp nuances of character and relationships, captured in a few inked letters on a page. I love the precision of comics; the blink-sharp incision of a frame on the page, the way it hangs in the moment of the book itself.

I’ve discovered Sappho through If Not, Winter : Fragments of Sappho by Anne Carston. It is a book of space and restraint and I am drunk on it. I am drunk on the white space and the edged words and the way that there is so much caught in this poetry, so much that is said and unsaid. The spoken. The unspoken. A poet of nothing and of everything. I think I am obsessed.

I’m reading Watership Down; a book so seared to me visually by the film adaptation, that I had forgotten the thick and fat beauty of the original text. Rabbits. Rabbits, and yet, in this sprawling, rich Tolkien-esque saga, there is so much here to enjoy. It is a rich, layered wild in this book, and it is one that seems to revel in a slow read. An indulgent read.

(If I ask anything of you this year, it is to give yourself a slow read. An indulgent read. A selfish, generous, passionate read. Tell nobody of it. Hold it to yourself. Delight in that dialogue between you and the text and revel in your read. There is such power in this space).

The idea of wild and the wilderness is something I keep returning to here, now, in this mid-space between Christmas and reality, this pause of the world; the wild is so much in children’s literature and yet, so rarely expressed. Piers Torday‘s potent The Last Wild trilogy deals with the loss of the wilderness and the ramifications of that upon our world. The River Singers by Tom Moorhouse tells the story of a band of water voles, and I am excited to see a sequel in this series. Richard Adams, of course, is one of the foremost authors in this area, with the richness of Watership Down and the fantastically dark , more adult, and quite vicious Shardik.

The unknowable nature of the wild; the dark. The edge of the world. I think Susan Cooper had it right; that there is a thinness to this world at times. Maybe this time is when we feel it the most; the nights that are not quite dark and then, at another glance, a moment later, pitch-black and lightless. The thin-grey light of the half-day. The rain, the wind. The point of the year where the world is less ours and more somebody elses. Something wild.

The telephone wires are dancing with the wind; and the rain is marking itself against my window, burning the glass with its insistent presence.

I shall go and read.



Book Reviews

The Last Wild : Piers Torday

The Last WildThe Last Wild by Piers Torday

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came to ‘The Last Wild’ a little blindly. I was conscious that it was a Carnegie nominee for 2014 and that I’d seen a lot of positive talk online about it. And that was pretty much it, and now that I have finished it, I am wondering how best to phrase my feelings about this painterly, immense book.

I think, firstly, it’s useful to know that it’s the first in a series. That I found the ending difficult in that sort of ‘but – but – a sequel?’ sort of thing. A part of me longs for self-contained books in the way that Rooftoppers is and I long for that because I’m a selfish reader. At heart, I think that’s the best way to describe it. I want the story and I want it all and I want it there and then.

And when it is written with such wild imagination and vivid skill as Torday’s ‘The Last Wild’, the knowledge that this story is not ended and that there is more to come is both a wonderful and awful thing to deal with as a selfish reader.

This book is very good. It is wild storytelling (I keep using wild, and I do not know how else to phrase it, it is storytelling on the edge of things, on that blurry edge and it is good and thrilling and wild). The more that I think about it, the more I start to situate this book in a sort of British animal children’s literary canon (and god, how I wish I could phrase that more cogently but I will let it stand). There are moments in this book that sing, so evocatively and so gracefully, moments that sing of Colin Dann and Richard Adams and of Ted Hughes. Moments that are rooted in land and wing, moments of kingmaking and of destiny, and of becoming who you were always meant to be.

I loved The Last Wild and I am full of hate and love for the fact that I have to wait for more.

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**edit** Just reserved the sequels from my local library! Libraries are AMAZING. Have I mentioned this? ***edit***