By Rob Lloyd Jones
Published Walker Books
ISBN 978 1 4063 4138 6
One of the pleasures of reading is when a book comes along from which you expect little, but which ends up making you want to shout to everyone around you, "You must read this!"
Rob Lloyd Jones was an unknown quantity. His novel Wild Boy didn't give much away from its title, the cover wasn't anything out of the ordinary, and the blurb on the back was a bit of a mess. But within the first few pages, it becomes obvious that here is something special.
In the dark streets of Victorian London, a boy is born and immediately abandoned by his mother. The baby is taken in by the local workhouse, where he is neglected and abused because he is not like the other orphans. He isn't even given a proper name. He is called "Wild Boy" because his body is covered from head to toe in hair.
One day, an unscrupulous showman arrives at the workhouse and buys the child to show off as a freak in his travelling fairground show. Customers pay to see the monstrosity as he is dragged around London. Wild Boy is spat at, tormented and physically abused by his "master" and the other show folk, but he has an inner strength and is determined not to be broken.
When a murder occurs at a fairground, Wild Boy is accused of the crime. He makes a desperate run for freedom, with charismatic acrobat Clarissa inadvertently taken along for the ride. The plot now shifts into top gear as Wild Boy uses all his skills of deduction to save himself and bring a killer to justice.
In Lloyd Jones' capable writing hands, what could have so easily been a distasteful and upsetting subject for a whodunnit thriller becomes a moving and exciting piece of youth fiction. The author shows a great sympathy for his hero, and his story never becomes sentimental or exploitative.
Put up the 'Do not disturb' sign and turn off your phone. This riveting, five-star read and its unexpected protagonist will thrill and surprise readers looking for something out of the ordinary. With a gripping prologue that perfectly sets the tone for what is to follow, and a hero as strong and sympathetic as any of the long-established characters of classic youth fiction,
Wild Boy really is something quite unique. Let's hope this is not the last time we meet him: he is too good a character to only appear in one book. More, please!
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com