The Feral Child by Che Golden

Took me a little while to get into this one, but I think that was more the mood I was in than anything else – anyone else noticed how your moods dictate how you find a book? I persevered with this one though and wow, was it worth it!

Publisher: Quercus Publishing PLC
ISBN: 9780857383792
Published: 5/1/2012

Maddie is not a happy girl. Her parents both died recently and as if that wasn’t terrible to start with, she’s now stuck in Ireland with her grandparents and her annoying cousins. Her gran keeps nagging at her and granddad keeps telling her stories about faries and while she quite likes them, she’s too angry to enjoy them much and…well…she is a tweenager, so she’s really too old for those stories anyway. In fact, about the only thing she does like in her new home full of daydreaming, annoying or nagging relatives is the little toddler next door, Stephen. However, after Maddie happens to bump into an odd, vicious boy suddenly Stephen goes missing and Maddie spots that a Changeling has been left in his place (In case you don’t know, Changeling’s are magical creatures disguised as humans that are left behind in place of the children that mean fairies have snatched away). Now the hunt is on as Maddie enters the Fae world to find Stephen and take him away from the brutal, cold and spiteful hold of the Queen of Winter.
Let’s start right off and say that I LOVE mythical creatures. My shelves have got a  fair number of folklore books and books on nonsensical beasties, but for whatever reason I’ve never really come across Irish myths and folklore. Golden has obviously drawn on some of this and makes for a really rich read. It really is like discovering a new world, reading her grandad’s stories of faires, iron and Changelings. I’ve read similar sorts of things in other folklores but still! And let’s get this straight – Irish faires are not twee little things that prance about with glittery fairy dust pluming from their wings, petting cute, furry woodland animals. Oh no, these are proper fairies – mean, spiteful, mercurial, teasing, infuriating creatures that are as treacherous as they are intriguing. Well, some of them anyway. Other  inhabitants of the Fae world are shy and quiet, overshadowed by their more overbearing fairy counterparts. And you really start to feel an affinity for them as encounter more and more of the more tricksy Fae folk as you follow Maddie and her cousins Danny and Roisin along.
Maddie herself is a great character and rarely do you meet a stronger female lead. You keep finding new levels with her and she’s feels to me like a character that’s gone through several rewrites and character developments. Real thought has gone into her and what it would feel like to lose your parents and your home all at once and how you would react to it. I really wouldn’t say no to seeing another book following Maddie and her cousins sometime in the future!
The only odd point for me was the  ending. By no means was it a bad one, but it did feel a little…disquieting… maybe. Beware, the next bit is a potential SPOILER. Don’t read further on if you don’t want spoilers.
If I read it right, Maddie was the victim of a certain mythical beastie because she was so unhappy that for a brief moment, she wanted to die. This is why the Fae folk latched onto her and decided to lure her to the Fae World by kidnapping Stephen in the first place – they wanted to use her unhappiness to fuel their own power. That’s quite dark I think and it’s worth having a little read over maybe before putting it into the hands of a 9-12 reader if you’re not sure about how your reader would interpret it. However, this is not an overtly sinister or depressing book and it’s only worth a quick glance over to get a feel for how that one little nugget is handled and definitely should not put you off the book entirely. It didn’t me anyway (that’s why it’s on this blog after all!) and I wouldn’t give it any more careful attention than you would a Jacqueline Wilson book for readers of the same age. 
The chapters are short and packed enough so as to make it easier for a reluctant reader to get easily through it and I’m especially pleased with the glossary Golden provides at the back of the book. The original Irish names for all the beasties and places are included in the book, which could lead some readers (like wordy me) to wonder how to pronounce them (plus it’s a handy recap if you happen to forget what any of the Fae folk are!).
In short, this could be a great book for expanding work on mythical beasts and legends. More importantly though, it’s an exciting read packed full of folklore, with a strong female character to lead the way through an occasionally quite sinister storyline.
Read it here
Oooh! Sequel here!


  • Thank you! You're right, a LOT of thought went into Maddy and not everyone likes her, she's not the most likable of people. But that is deliberate. I really wanted to show a child that was very normal, angry, confused, often lashing out at the people trying to help her. She has a lot of fantastic qualities buried deep down and these come out more as the trilogy progresses. A lot of adults have reacted badly to the Feral Child as they feel it is wrong for a child character to be depressed and suicidal, but a lot of kids out there are in rough situations and I suppose I was trying to write a character they could identify with. Maddy is a hero any child can aspire to be and I think her most outstanding quality is the quiet one of being able to endure. She gains in strength through the books as she grows and like most abused children she comes to the realisation that she can fight back or walk away. You'll have to read The Raven Queen (published January 2014) to find out what she chooses. The Unicorn Hunter if anything, is even darker, so I would be curious to read what you think!

  • Hi! Thanks for your reply!I agree she's a very powerful character and I can see how she's been set up to grow. To be honest, I'm in the halfway camp – I can see why adults would get so upset about a child in a story who wants to die, but then the other part of me says kids don't all live in a perfect pristine real world at the moment anyway, and even if they do, we often underestimate exactly what they can cope with when reading. It's a tricky situation, balancing the maintenance of innocence against a good story that just happens to have some darker issues in it. My first reaction was a bit 'Whoah. OK. Didn't see that coming' when I first read it. It took me a little while to go back over what I'd read to realise that yes, I had interpreted it right. Still, I think back to when I was about 10, and I read the Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson. I had never heard of mental illnesses before but of course, it's reality for a number of children living with relatives who do suffer from a mental illness and while I don't think my parents would necessarily have wanted me to read about it at that age, I personally felt very grown up reading that book – I felt so mature and I remember, it did make me consider other people's situations outside of my safe little happy world. And it's one of the few books I can remember in detail from that long ago, so it obviously had an impact!Naturally, it wouldn't be the same for every kid as it was for me tackling a more mature book, but I do think that there can be balance between darker stories and what children are capable of reading and understanding, and that there's absolutely no finite way to judge it. I do try to take care in my reviews to make it absolutely clear that it's purely my opinion on what's roughly suitable for who, but I'm never sure how successful I am at that.Anyway, thank you very much for replying, I really appreciate it!

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