Monday, 15 April 2013
Review: Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones
A boy covered in hair, raised as a monster, condemned to life in a travelling freak show.
A boy with extraordinary powers 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.
Confession time: occasionally I get very excited about books by debut authors, when all I have done is read the blurb/press release and/or seen the cover design. Sometimes a book just screams "READ ME, YOU'LL LOVE ME!" This is not always a good thing, as there have been a number of time where I have ended up being disappointed when such a book turns out to be not/less than I expected. Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones was certainly not one of those books - it had me completely hooked from beginning to end and I loved every moment of it. And yes, it became yet another 2013 release that received 5 stars from me on Goodreads.
Before I even opened to the first page of the book I was mentally ticking the boxes as I read its press release. A Victorian setting - check! A main character who is in a freak show, and has a Sherlock Holmes style talent for observation - check! A sinister underside to scientific advancement - check! Packed with atmosphere and graphic gore - double check! And even better - written for younger readers (i.e. no teen angst and huge loads of fun - I'm getting so bored of YA and middle grade adventure novels are really my thing right now). As I turned to that first page I was pretty confident that I was going to love it and I just want to shake the author's hand and thank him for not letting me down. This is one book that I will be pushing hard in the school library, although Walker and whoever design the cover have done such a great job I'm not sure I will have to work too hard to get the kids reading it.
As I have already mentioned, Wild Boy (the only name he has ever had) is part of a travelling freak show, where he is owned by a rather nasty master. Before he was 'sold' he had lived in an workhouse/orphanage where he was kept locked in a room, and bullied mercilessly by the other children. Moving to the freak show brought a different set of problems, but the daily humiliation continued and the only way Wild Boy stays sane is by observing the many people who visit the circus. Over time he has developed this truly amazing talent for observation and deduction, and now 'boasts' skills to match the great Sherlock Holmes.
Unfortunately for Wild Boy though, a murder happens at the circus, and for Wild Boy it becomes a classic case of being in the wrong place and the wrong time. He is spotted at the scene of the crime, and as he is so different from the norm, he is immediately accused of the crime. All of a sudden he finds himself on the run from the law, accompanied (very reluctantly) by Clarissa, an acrobat who is far from being Wild Boy's biggest fan, but who finds herself sought as his accomplice in the crime. So begins a fun, and occasionally frightening, action mystery story as the unlikely pair attempt to track down the real murderer and thus clear their names. Along the way they encounter sinister scientists, deadly (and steampunk-ish) technology, and the mysterious organisation, known only as the Gentlemen. Seriously - what is there not to like about this book?
Whilst the mystery and the action aspects of this story are spot on, for me the stand out elements were the characters and the descriptions of their Victorian world. As the story progresses Wild Boy and Clarissa develop in ways neither of them could ever have imagined, and they gradually come to accept each other for who they are. As a reader I became attached to both of these characters very quickly, and went through a range of emotions, from anger at the way the two were treated, to total elation as they began to solve the mystery using their special talents. Come the final page of the proof copy I received I was left wanting more (in a good way, of course), and I was overjoyed with the final chapter that hinted that there may be more on the cards. I have since discovered that Rob is currently working on a sequel, Wild Boy and the Black Terror, and although it is only in the writing stage and so way, way off publication I still cannot wait to immerse myself in the world of Wild Boy and Clarissa again.
Wild Boy was published in a beautiful hardcover edition on 4th April and my thanks go the the lovely people at Walker Books for sending me a copy. If you have a 9+ child who loves a good mystery story then this is a must-read, and is certainly up there as one of my favourite books of the year so far. You can find out more about Rob Lloyd Jones and his Wild Boy over at http://www.roblloydjones.com/