‘London, 1841. A boy covered in hair, raised as a monster, condemned to life in a travelling freak show. A boy with an extraordinary power of observation and detection. A boy accused of murder; on the run; hungry for the truth. Behold the savage spectacle of WILD BOY. Ladies and Gentlemen, take your seats. The show is about to begin.’ And so the back of Rob Lloyd Jones’ book, Wild Boy, reads. What a blurb! Tingling with intrigue and drama…
Wild Boy throws you into the breathless rush of the Victorian circus world: of a showman with a face so scarred ‘he looked like he’d been sewn together from patches of skin’; of a legless friend called Sir Oswald; of a Ringmaster with a ‘face covered with a thick layer of white make-up that fairground rumours said she hadn’t rubbed off since the day her husband disappeared’; of the Human Colossus; of the Living Skeleton; of the Bearded Lady… But it is the boy covered in hair, known as ‘the monster’ or ‘the missing link between man and bear’, that the story really concerns. Snatched away from a dingy workhouse by brutish showman, Augustus Finch, Wild Boy becomes a freak spectacle at the circus. Day after day crowds jeer at him, calling him names while hurling fists and rotten fruits. But all the while, Wild Boy watches – watches every person: their clothes, their mannerisms, their accents, their style of walk. EVERYTHING. Because Wild Boy has a gift – and he’s waiting for a chance to use it. He sees things other people don’t.
In a matter of seconds, Wild Boy can tell that a man is a retired soldier, an opium addict and is heavily in debt: ‘the red-brown tinge to the man’s teeth caused by smoke from the opium pipe and the slight tremble of his hands from withdrawal were clear indications of the man’s addiction. The sprig of heather in his pocket suggested that he’d visited one of the gypsies at the park gates, a sign of both desperation and concern for his immediate fortunes. And as for the man’s military past and current debt problem, Wild Boy could see that he’d once worn medals on his coat – the darker patch on this lapel, unfaded by the sun, showed where they’d been.’ And then one night, when Wild Boy flees the beatings of his master, the dreaded Augustus Finch, he intercepts a mysterious clue, meant for someone else.
Within pages, a terrible murder has been committed and Wild Boy has been framed for it. Together with an unlikely companion, the red-haired, fiery-tempered acrobat, Clarissa Everett, Wild Boy must trail the killer to find out why he’s being framed and what on earth this extraordinary machine is… But Wild Boy and Clarissa must act quickly because a second murder frames them both – and their names are sprawled in blood across the wall above the murder scene. And so begins a perilous journey across London: through underground sewers; towards a man with a golden eyeball; past a killer who strikes without breaking an entry; through secret tunnels and across rooms littered with jars of eyeballs.
The author, Rob Lloyd Jones, has really nailed it with this book. The plot is so fast-paced that the final carriage chase left Moontrug totally breathless: ‘ “That’s him! Go faster!” Wild Boy tumbled back onto the seat as the Lord Mayor’s coach jolted over cracks in the road. Two wheels came off the ground and the carriage almost tipped over before slamming back to the broken surface. Drunken crowds ran screaming from the street. A chestnunt seller dived out of the way, only to see his tin stove crushed like paper beneath the coach’s wheels. Sparks flew, but Marcus wasn’t slowing down.’ And each chapter ends with a hook that leaves you wanting more: ‘The hunt for the hooded man – and for the machine – was back on.’
Coupled with outstanding courage from Wild Boy and Clarissa (loving Wild Boy’s actions on page 168 by the way!) and a deeply unsettling twist, Wild Boy is a must read for 2014 – straight up there on Moontrug’s Altocumulus Tower. And the best thing about it all? Wild Boy and Clarissa are just getting started. The next book, Wild Boy & The Black Terror, follows the detective duo to the city’s vilest slums and to its grandest palaces – right to the darkness lying at the hear of its very highest society. Watch out Sherlock Holmes – you’ve got competition on your hands from Wild Boy and Clarissa… So if you’re 8 years old (or older), roll up, roll up, for a copy of Wild Boy and check out Rob Lloyd Jones’ website – lots of Moontruggy facts about his life up there. And if any of you can tell me why Rob Lloyd Jones goes everywhere with a roll of tape in his pocket, there’s a prize to be had. Get thinking, detecting, observing and wondering Wild Boy style… (Email ideas to: firstname.lastname@example.org)