25th September '17
"It was the kind of laughter that makes you doubt the things you thought you knew about the world.” Feo is forced to question all that she believed in the course of this thrilling, dangerous, but moving story set in Revolutionary Russia.
Feo and her mother, Marina, are wilders. The job of a wilder is to train a wolf to survive independently; to become tuned in to lost natural instincts; to become the wild beast it is meant to be. When her mother is arrested and taken to Kresty jail, Feo and her wolves set out to rescue her, whatever the cost.
With text rich in beautiful, evocative language, the reader is drawn into a world whose beauty Feo finds “itself a kind of company”, where “half grown trees [dip] like praying polar bears” and faces are described as “built on the blueprint of snow leopards and saints”. Descriptions of landscapes subtly shift to reflect the psychological and emotional state of Feo as she travels not only on a physical journey but also one of self-discovery. Like her wolves, she must who and how to trust, how to become a member of a pack.
Distinctions between animals and humans are blurred. Rundell awakens the animal nature of the reader, appealing to the olfactory senses as well as other of our most basic instincts. The character of Rakov forces us to question who are the real animals. It’s dark, bleak, barren but the bright energy of the children, along with the dry wit of Feo and the warmth of the strong, loyal and loving relationships she builds, counter balances this cruel starkness. When ultimately the children lead the attack on the city, their colour contrasts with the dull, muted tones of the city of the adult world.
Feo sees the world as she sees her wolves, in black and white, as right or wrong, but Grey reminds us that there are moral ambiguities: is one wrong perpetrated against an individual justified if it is for the common good? Is Rakov murdered or is it Darwinian survival of the fittest? The final image of the pup reminds us that he combines the black and the white, representing a new, brighter future for Feo and her newly extended ‘pack’.
This is a ‘meaty’ (pardon the pun) text that children deserve to be exposed to. Like that which embellishes wolves ears, this is truly “book gold”.