Monday 31 August 2015

Reviewed by Arianne: The Wanderers by Kate Ormand.

Product details:
Publisher: Sky Pony Press.
Hardcover, 320 pages.
Release date: September 1st 2015.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Ages: 12+
Reviewed by: Arianne.

 A Unique Twist on Shape-Shifters with Fast-Paced Action, Thrilling Adventure, Mystery, and a Bit of Romance

Flo lives an eccentric life—she travels with a popular circus in which the main acts star orphaned children with secret shape-shifting abilities. Once Flo turns sixteen, she must perform, but she’s not ready. While practicing jumping a flaming hurdle in a clearing beside the circus, she spots a dark figure in the trees and fears he saw her shift. The news sends the circus into a panic.

In Flo’s world, shifters are unknown to humans with the exception of a secret organization—the EOS, referred to as “hunters.” Hunters capture and kill. They send some shifters to labs for observation and testing—testing they don’t often survive—and deem others useless, a danger to society, and eliminate them. To avoid discovery, shifters travel in packs, constantly moving and keeping themselves hidden. Up until now, the circus was the perfect disguise.

Believing she has brought attention to the group, Flo feels dread and anxiety, causing her to make a mistake during her performance in front of the audience—a mistake that triggers a violent attack from the hunters.

Flo manages to flee the torched circus grounds with Jett, the bear shifter who loves her; the annoying elephant triplets; and a bratty tiger named Pru. Together they begin a new journey, alone in a world they don’t understand and don’t know how to navigate. On the run, they unravel secrets and lies that surround the circus and their lives—secrets and lies that all point to the unthinkable: Have they been betrayed by the people they trusted most?

Quirky, exciting and packed with action, The Wanderers marks an intriguing new direction for one of UKYA’s most remarkable voices. Yet even with one foot in urban fantasy, one foot in contemporary, another in dystopia, and more still planted in action-adventure and sci-fi, this book is no beast. It’s a cleverly written and surprisingly slim story; it has just enough twists and turns to keep you reading – and a body count that could give Game of Thrones a run for its money.

If there’s anything that stands out about The Wanderers, it’s a single glittering word which holds an almost mythical power for readers and writers alike: shapeshifters. It’s such a magical, tantalising idea. It lies in the very foundations of fantasy, and is an eye-catching addition to any shelf. It’s little wonder, then, that The Wanderers was one of my most anticipated reads of 2015. 

This isn’t just any old shapeshifter story, either. It’s a race for survival with plot twists you won’t see coming, pulling together ideas that have been done before into one new and thrilling escapade. Ormand populates her take on the shapeshifter myth with a ramshackle circus, sinister betrayals and ruthless hunters; Flo’s world is a risky place to be, and readers will be hooked on this heart-pounding runaway adventure. 

Flo can transform into a beautiful grey horse – a particularly brilliant choice as it’s not something we often see in fiction and paves the way for some thrilling action sequences – but her worries and fears are incredibly human. My favourite character by far was bear shifter Jett; wonderfully drawn and totally down to earth, his cheeriness is a great foil to Flo’s more serious side. 

Jett and Flo's romance was one of the highlights of the book for me – they’re fantastic together, and I loved the fact that they’re in an established relationship. So many YA novels focus exclusively on first love or falling in love, but what about after the happily-ever-after? Positive, diverse, long-term relationships are something I’d love to see more of it in YA, so Flo and Jett’s relationship alone earns a whole star for the book from me.

As for the menagerie of personalities and abilities in the secondary cast, you’ll find shifters of every type filling out Flo’s precarious existence: monkeys, lionesses, parrots, even a horde of tiger shifters. The characters behind them, however, are a little less memorable. The cast – whether friend or foe - is just so huge, it’s hard to keep track of them all, and even harder for any of them to make an impression. The first half of the book is quite slow, dragged down by false starts and Flo’s fears over an otherwise simple circus stunt. The book needed better world-building and more description, too, as readers are left wandering without the richness of description the tale deserves. Of course, the book’s straightforward, accessible writing style has the potential to bring in a wider audience. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help wondering if the book simply needed something more - more drama, more flair, more passion. 

The Wanderers would have made for an astonishing epic fantasy, yet we’re left with a murky mix of genres that never quite hits the high notes it’s truly capable of. I wanted it to soar and show its spirit, opening the door for an entire series of shapeshifting mayhem, all chaos and charisma, but sadly it wasn’t to be. Thankfully, there really is a lot to enjoy about the rest of the book, and I’d love to see more authors take on big, fantastical concepts like this one. If they can do it with even half the adventure The Wanderers has, the UKYA scene will be in for a treat. 

In short: Secrets and treachery abound in the dangerous world of The Wanderers, but the real heart of the book can be found in its brilliantl romance and twisting plot. It’s not perfect and didn’t deliver everything I’d hoped to find in it, but it keeps you reading and you’ll be racing to find out what happens to heroine Flo and her friends. I can’t wait to see what Kate Ormand turns her hand to next.


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