The Last Wild
London, Quercus, 2013, 326p
Usually, I don't really like books with talking animals - they are very hard to take seriously, especially when they are highlighting an environmental issue such as this novel. But somehow, Piers Torbay has created an original and fascinating dystopia with a true spirit of adventure.
The world of The Last Wild is very different from that which we live in. There are no animals left alive - all have been killed by a disease known as the red-eye. The people are confined to the cities, protected and fed by Factorum, a huge omniscient company that appears to be a little suspect.
Kester doesn't talk. Separated from his father, he is locked up in Spectre Hall where they send kids who are a burden on or embarrassment to society. In his room, he pretends to talk to the cockroaches, which apparently were not affected by the red-eye. Then he discovers he can communicate with animals, of which there are in fact some left alive, and a hoard of pigeons and varmints are plotting to help him escape. They take him north and show him more animals, living in solitude away from the humans, but everyday at risk from infection. They have brought him there because they have a shared dream: they believe Kester is the one who will cure them.
With a stag, a wolf-cub, and a cockroach, Kester sets off to Premuim, the city where he grew up and where he hopes his father still lives. He thinks his father, a vet, might be able to cure the red-eye. Kester is a reluctant hero, never fully believing that he will be the one to save the animals; but he is eager to be reunited with his father so agrees to help.
The Last Wild carries a strong environmental message about the impact of science and the economy on wildlife. I feel guilty about not being a vegetarian after reading about these colourful, loveable animals.
The creatures in this book a beautifully personified, making me wish I knew an adorably eager wolf-cub and a dopey pigeon. In contrast, humans don't come across well, from murderous Facto bullies to misleadingly friendly farmers. Every page of this book presents a new danger to the team, both man-made and natural. And you come away from this read feeling increasingly aware and strangely horrified about the evil we inflict on the animal world.
But the adventure doesn't end here - Kester and his friends still have a long way to go.