So I’ve been missing someone recently. Not a person exactly, but a character. An animal in fact – possibly the most fumbly-brained, accidentally hilarious animal any author has created: Piers Torday’s white pigeon. Last seen in his bestselling The Last Wild (and what an impact he made there) – I heard that the sequel, The Dark Wild, was out and there was a chance the white pigeon may be making another appearance.
Twelve-year-old Kester Jaynes thought he had rescued the last wild animals in the land. He thought his adventure was over. He was wrong. Below the sparkling city of Premium, deep underground, Kester finds more survivors: a menacing white dog, a cohort of foxes, an interfering starling, and the world’s most miserable rat. A dark wild hiding from the deadly virus that destroyed their friends; a dark wild with a plan to rise up against their human enemies. Together with his loyal friend Polly and a brave gang of child outlaws, Kester must find a way to stop them before it’s too late. Kester Jaynes saved the animals. Can he save the humans, too?
Right from the start, the story packs pace: Polly is hiding secrets, a helicopter is circling and there is a strange whispering in the drain. And so Kester and his loyal wild are thrown headlong into another adventure. But what’s so brilliant about this book is that the story matters. Really matters. Because what would our world look like without animals? What would it look like without humans? The reader is on tenterhooks at the end of each chapter: will Kestrel and his wild be enough against the dark wild, against the cullers, against Captain Skuldiss and Selwyn Stone?
The story has an Animals of Farthing Wood / Watership Down feel, partly because the characters Torday creates are wonderfully real, each with a unique voice. The gorgeously boastful but brave wolf cub: ‘I know I am the best at scaring off giant metal birds ever,’ the brilliantly stupid Skulker: ‘I mean… what he said basically,’ the sycophantic starling: ‘I think you’ve orchestrated this really, really well. The whole charges thing, building up the drama…’ and of course, the white pigeon: ‘You will be completely forgotten, don’t worry.’
And Torday’s villains are properly frightening. In fact Skuldiss, ‘like a spider with a white human face,’ is so creepy Moontrug couldn’t read him before bed (he’s as creepy as The Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and Selwyn Stone, with his ghastly hobby, sends shivers down your spine. But set against them you have a pack of friends who won’t be beaten, despite the odds stacked against them: ‘And as if he has been listening to the dream as well, the damp orange insect in the palm of my hand begins to stir, muttering something inaudible to himself. While the stag and the cub watch back, I tuck him safely into my inside pocket, hidden from the storm. Then, frozen, soaking and tired, without another word, we turn away from the arcade back along the flooded river road and march forward together.’
Kester’s is a story that champions bravery and friendship where ‘the smallest things, the things you never thought would make the grade, the things it’s so easy to ignore because they were there every day’ turn out to make the difference between winning and losing. The Dark Wild is a fantastic adventure for 8-12 years. And did I mention the insecure rat and the dog with golden teeth? No? Then you’d better get reading…