fulfilling book riot’s 2018 read harder challenge task #16: the first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series
extry points given to me, by me, for choosing a book that i have owned for more than a year.
i am an adult who decided to read this book because the cover demanded my attention, because i like foxes, and because books about animals having adventures still own a piece of my heart. everything i write after this introduction is my own, personal opinion of a middle-grade book i chose as a leisure read, with no professional angle attached, so if you find yourself tempted to come on here and tell me that “kids like it,” or “i should review this in terms of how well it appeals to its target audience,” or whatever other scoldings people have directed my way when i haven’t been wowed by a book that “their students” or “their children” love, please fight that urge. i’m thrilled that kids are finding books to love, and there have certainly been times when my tastes and the tastes of a 7-12 year old reader have overlapped, but sometimes they don’t, and that’s okay.
this one wasn’t a fall-in-love book for me. i wish it had been, because that cover is magic:
and the endpapers are divine:
but the story itself didn’t grab me. it was actually kind of boring. i understand it’s the first book in a trilogy and the table-setting needs to be done, but there’s not much to this one apart from laying out the geography, the key players, and the mythology. there’s a plot, and there are dangers and conflicts, but many of the conflicts are just variations of the same theme, and except for one “big” scene that’s pretty fun, it’s a pretty low-key book of walking and talking around most of the interesting stuff. there’s also a very distancing quality to the prose, which is the opposite of what i expected in a book for such young readers. i never felt immersed or transported; i felt like i was watching a TED talk given by animals. and oddly enough given that criticism, the only page i bookmarked to quote in this review was probably the most didactic part of all:
”Here’s what you should have been told, and told again, from the day you were born: of all Canista’s cubs, Fox has suffered the most from the cruelty of the furless. Dog longs, more than anything, to fit in. He thrived in the Graylands, digging a comfortable place for himself as a servant to the furless. He was fed and cared for, but there were terms to his acceptance. He would live as a prisoner, tethered at the end of a rope. Soon he was so well fed on the spoils of then furless that he forgot all memory of his time in the wild, and he lacked the desire to free himself. He lived in a pack with the furless as his leader. His own will withered like a plant without water.
“Wolf was an ancient and noble creature, the largest and fiercest cub of Canista. He would not be controlled by the furless. He ran to the Snowlands, the frozen realms beyond their reach, where he howled to his ancestors to save him. But in his eagerness to be free, he found himself in a land so brutal that he needed the help of his enemies to stay alive, for a lone wolf cannot feed his cubs. In time, fights emerged between the wolves, battles for the best of the kill, for the warmest place to sleep. The strongest claimed that they were kings and that weaker wolves were their slaves. A system of control emerged, more brutal and no less binding than the furless’s imprisonment of Dog. In the end, despite his size and power, Wolf cowered before the spirits and bowed to the rule of the pack. Confused and superstitious, he forgot how to survive alone.”[…]
Siffrin went on. “Only Fox had the courage to live without rules, without the hierarchies of others – to hunt and survive in freedom and peace. For while Wolf and Dog are so brutalized that they will gladly kill their own kind, Fox avoids conflict at all cost. She does not yearn to control others – only to live by her own wits. She does not scare or torture her prey, like a cat – she does not gain pleasure from the chase. For that, she is distrusted by her brutish cousins, the other sons and daughters of Canista. For her independence, she is tormented by the furless. The Graylands are haunted by snatchers, who round up foxes and take them away. Even in the Wildlands the furless hunt us, using dogs and poison to kill us. They shoot us with metal sticks and gas our dens. They give us no peace.”
that passage was more interesting to me than any of the magical aspects, visions, prophecies or action sequences, except for the one i already admitted was “fun.”
i dunno – i will probably eventually read the other two books in the trilogy, since i already bought them because of coverlove,
but i don’t feel a lot of urgency about getting around to them. this one ends in a weird place – neither cliffhanger nor revelation. a thing happens, the journey continues, but it doesn’t feel like there has been any closure nor any attempt to stoke the “can’t miss book two!” fever that most series try to provoke. but perhaps your children or students love it, which is great.
in other pretty visual details, the cover beneath the dust jacket has a little embossed fox:
and there are illustrations at the start of every chapter. here are some of them:
a very pretty book, but i need more to hook me.