Rob Lloyd Jones
London, Walker, 2014, 301p
Authors for young people are having to get more and more creative. By now, every story has been told, so writing something original is a challenge. Cross-over fiction is becoming increasingly common, in which authors bring together classic tropes from a variety of genres to create new adventures and characters.
It's London, 1841. A boy, hairy as a monster, is accused of murder. Wild Boy has been travelling with a freak show for years, and becomes embroiled in a dangerous mystery, which forces him to go on the run. This unusual young man is extraordinarily observant, and his detective skills are the only thing that might save him from the hangman's noose.
The whole mystery surrounds a scientific machine that is believed to be able to fundamentally change who you are. Wild Boy knows nothing about how it might work, but this little slither of knowledge is enough to motivate him to find this strange machine that might make him just like a normal child.
I adore Wild Boy as a main character - he is an intelligent boy who is easy to sympathise with. He struggles to make friends, simply because he has been hurt so many times before, and the reader shares in his frustration when people are so quick to judge him as a beast. He has built walls all around himself; but when he desperately needs help, fellow traveler Clarissa is there for him, and slowly he learns to trust.
Wild Boy is part-adventure, part-mystery, part-science fiction. Even the protagonist is a cross-over character, drawing on the characteristic traits of the geek, the detective genius, and the lone ranger. Few authors could bring so many elements together to create a succinct novel, but Rob Lloyd Jones has brought these things together in an thoroughly-planned and beautifully-executed story. There is truly something for everyone.