THE WORDSMITH by Patricia Forde

Two years ago Moontrug read a brilliantly original book by David Almond called My Name is Mina. Mina is full of wonder at the world around her – she loves nature, birds, drawing, William Blake’s poems and WORDS. She says: ‘Words should wander and meander.  They should fly like owls and flicker like bats and slip like cats.  They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.’ And the same love of words that runs through Almond’s book is present in Patricia Forde’s excellent novel for 9+ years, The Wordsmith.

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Ark is a place of tally sticks, rationed food and shared shoes, where art and music are banned, language is severely restricted and outcasts are thrown to the wolves. Letta’s job is to collect words and dole them out to people who need them. When she discovers that John Noa is planning to rob the people of language altogether and make them Wordless, she has to stop him. But she’s only a young girl and he’s the leader of the known world.

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Forde’s concept of an apocalyptic world repressed of language is both original and superbly done. On the one hand, you have Letta’s fascination with words: ‘…words she’d learnt in school flying about her head, fireflies from some magical place’ and the author’s own intrigue with language: ‘words slipping and sliding between two men’. Then you have Ark, a place where language is being drained away, despite Letta’s best efforts to preserve it. The world-building is hugely convincing (streets patrolled by gavvers, woods full of wolves, a Wordsmith’s home with secret Monk’s Room) and provides a fantastic platform for the plot to play out. By page 28, Letta is already harbouring a dangerous intruder, a young boy injured by the gavvers, and by page 89 she realises that beneath the ‘truths’ she has been told lurk a string of shocking lies…

Forde develops Letta’s character from obedient wordsmith to enraged rebel and her relationship with Marlo is lovely – something to root for amidst the horror of Noa’s regime. The plot is full of twists and turns and tension is high as Letta mixes ink from beetroot to mark a trail to her friend in the forest and when she sneaks out into the outlaws’ hiding place. Forde’s writing is beautiful (‘a hushed kind of waiting clung to everything’) and set alongside Ark’s squalid prisons, torture scenes, murders and the repressive List language, a huge sense of anger bubbles inside the reader as the plot progresses. Moontrug was willing the illegal colour-catchers (musicians, painters and dancers) on and as the book reached its conclusion, the tension was so high Moontrug had to read the last few chapters pacing the room. A fantastic book – original and compelling – and Moontrug is looking forward to what Forde has in store for us all next…

 

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