By Nilanjana Roy
Published by Pushkin Children Books
ISBN 978 1 78269 105 1
Anthropomorphic novels where animals speak in human language and take on human personality traits are difficult to pull off because of credibility issues. Cats, dogs and rabbits do not behave like humans, so it can be unsettling if the author cannot find the right balance between fantasy and realism. Luckily, Nilanjan Roy’s The Wildings finds this delicate harmony in this worthy debut work.
The Wildings tells the story of a small tribe of feral cats that live in the streets of Nizamuddin, an old and run-down district of Delhi, India. The name of the game is survival. No one is going to come and put down bowls of cat food here. These cats have to fight for their lives, and Roy presents this fight with no holds barred.
The very existence of the Wildings of Nizamuddin is an example of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” maxim. Anyone expecting cute Disney cats or the singing, dancing, friendly felines of the musical Cats is in for a shock if they pick up Roy’s superb novel. Cutesy kitties these cats are not, and the warning is there on the superbly designed cover.
The relationships between the cats of Nizamuddin are complex, and each one plays a part in the hierarchy. Miao, the group elder statesman, is a wise and grave Siamese. Hulo, the brave warrior tom, has been involved in many battles, and knows there are still more to come. Beraal is a beautiful queen, but can be swift and deadly with her fangs and claws when the need arises. These cats might live on the outside, but they respect the essential laws of nature that all the street animals of Nizamuddin must live by and uphold.
All is well until one day, a frightened orange-coloured kitten with dark green eyes and strange powers enters the lives of the Wildings. Their instinct is to kill this youngster, but they are distracted when a colony of cats that have been living in a neighbourhood house are turned out onto the streets of Nizamuddin.
The Wildings’ territory is suddenly under threat, and the only way to protect it is to fight tooth and claw. Has the orange kitten come into their midst with a purpose?
The feline world imagined by Roy in The Wildings is captivating and very addictive. This is a powerful and original YA novel that deserves every success.
And just a thought: if cats really can understand human speech, it might not be wise to read this aloud to your pet kitty – he might get ideas.
John Millen can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org