1) The Rich Settings –This story is set in the beautiful location of Nizamuddin in Delhi. You are transported to a place filled with vivid sights from the very first page and the expressive language brings the sounds and smells to life around you. The peaceful setting of the baoli where the cats can spend their days relaxing and napping is a stark contrast to the forbidding Shuttered House, with its soiled floors and distinct aroma of madness, a torture house for any creature, no matter the species.
2) The Cats – Yes it has cats, should I have mentioned that first? I was bit dubious about this to begin with as I am generally not a cat fan – apologies to all cat lovers worldwide but I am definitely more of a dog person. However, the way the cats are extraordinarily portrayed firmly establishes this book as a winner in my mind.
Roy has given each individual cat its own endearing personality – Mara is sweet and playful, Southpaw is brave and spirited, Beraal is strong and protective, Miao is wise and patient. I really enjoyed the idea that the feral cats in the Shuttered House were mad due to years of being house bound. Their leader, Datura, is a deplorable character that gives me the shivers with his strange eyes and love of killing. His two main leaders, Aconite and Ratsbane, are no better. They enjoy torturing helpless animals that are unfortunate enough to end up in the squalor of the Shuttered House.
3) The Animals – Cats are not the only animals to play an important role in this book. We get an insight into the lives of a huge array of species including tigers, cheels, bandicoots, canal pigs, monkeys and so many more. Ozzy the Royal Bengal tiger I absolutely loved! His moods and emotions were wonderfully theatrical.
4) The Illustrations – Prabha Mallya has produced stunning illustrations that fit perfectly with the story. Her unique style of illustrating compliments the plot throughout, adding to the atmosphere at crucial points.
5) The Language –The author certainly has a way with words! I love learning new vocabulary and this book is filled to the brim with delightful words that I haven’t come across often such as ‘rambunctious’ and ‘clowder’. There were quite a few words that I had to look up as they were specific to the culture in Delhi (i.e. Baoli, meaning a place of ritual bathing) but I didn’t mind doing it as it only enhanced my reading experience.
The combination of punctuation, sentence structure and vocabulary was spot on, and I really relished reading Roy’s story.
‘Some animals, Southpaw, are rogues. We don’t know why that
happens, but it’s a bad thing when it does. Cats go feral and peculiar,
horses go mad, and creatures like Datura were born with something
wrong, something broken, inside them. If you ever link with their
minds, you’ll smell it: madness and evil have their own stench, like
rotting flesh, and it’s best to stay away from the stink.’
6) Mara – The kitten with super powers! The idea of sending and linking, to be able to communicate telepathically, with only a twitch of the whiskers adds a magical feel to this story. I like how Roy chose a small kitten that is afraid to go outside to be the heroine of the story, proving that you do not necessarily need to be brawler, like Hulo or Beraal, to be a useful part of the clan. I really hope in the sequel we get to see more of Mara outside exploring and meeting new wildings.
7) Hunter Vs the Hunted –This is a big theme throughout, whether it is Beraal hunting Mara, the Cheels attacking kittens, owls searching mice – it’s constantly going on as the way nature intends it. However, there is etiquette amongst the animals that they only kill when they need to and that that the kill is swift and merciful. Not only is this in contrast to the feral cats, but also to the bigfeet who kill or torture for sport, perhaps similarly driven mad by our domesticity.
There’s a lack of human presence in this book and when it is referenced it is with a hint of derision. Bigfeet are bumbling, silly creatures who are unable to talk Junglee – the language of nature. I think this shows that the natural world will go on without us and that actually, it will always belong more to the wildlife than to us, despite what we think.
I absolutely loved this book and I’m so glad that I read it. Originally I though it was intended for the 9-12 market but I would say it is more suited for 14+ as there are a couple of violent scenes.
‘The Wildings’ by Nilimjana Roy Pushkin Press will be out from Pushkin Press in the UK on the 7th July.