Book review

The Last Wild by Piers Torday (2013)

Part 1 of the Last Wild Trilogy

What lived in a world where you genuinely believed there weren’t any animals left. They’ve all died from an unstoppable lethal virus. No wild animals. No birds. No pets. No farm animals. It’s not much of a world to find yourself growing up in:

First the animals we eat went, and then the bees went, and then the crops and fruit went. Vegetables were contaminated. So there were rations, the remaining supplies of fresh food stockpiled in giant deep freezes. Then all that went too. We lived out of tins. Oily, meaty, fishy or veggie mush out of tins. The tins began to run out too. People started eating anything. Even varmints. Rats, cockroaches.
Then, one day – I was here by now – they just started serving us formula, and that was it – no more normal food. ‘It’s gone,’ Denise had said, ‘and it ain’t coming back. That’s all you need to know.’ Instead we got given a meal replacement that ‘satisfies all your daily nutritional needs’.

It’s pink sloppy stuff if you must know. Sounds completely disgusting.

Anyway, if it turned out that in fact somewhere deep in the deepest wilderness there were a very few wild animals left barely surviving, who would you like to be in charge of their rescue?

I’m guessing you probably wouldn’t choose Kester Jaynes. He spends a lot of his time in a locked bedroom at the Spectrum Hall Academy for Challenging Children with a warden sitting outside the door. He’s mute, ever since his mother died.

I used to be able to talk normal, you see, like everyone. Mum and I talked a lot. Dad and I talked a bit. Now though, it’s like trying to learn the hardest language in the world. I know I can inside; it’s just when I try to speak – nothing happens. The more I try, the harder it gets.
They want to make me talk again here – Doctor Fredericks with his tests – but it’s not working. People still stare at you funny as you go red in the face, or sometimes they laugh and make up what they think you were going to say.

Kester’s best friend at Spectrum Hall seems to be a cockroach. Wouldn’t you know there would still be cockroaches left in the world. They don’t seem to succumb to the virus. The red-eye.

I give him a smile. Not that he can smile back, he’s a cockroach. But he likes to come and nibble at spoonfuls of my formula, so I let him. And he’s OK to hang out with. He doesn’t thump your leg and say, ‘How about if I give you a dead leg instead? Will you scream then?’ (No.) He doesn’t grab both your arms behind your back, while his mate tries to tickle you to death, saying, ‘What, you can’t even laugh either?’ (Again, no.) And he certainly never, ever jeers or points when you do try, as hard as you can, to say a word.
He just sort of listens.

He’s a jolly good listener that cockroach because it turns out Kester is talking his kind of language. Those few desperate wild animals out there need human help and they’ve chosen Kester Jaynes:

*Kester! Help!*
Whoever is speaking has a very deep voice – it’s not a kid’s voice at all, or even a man’s – it rasps and echoes, like a rock rattling down a metal pipe.
*Please. You must help.*
Almost not human.
Then slowly, with a knot in my stomach, I realize whose voice it is. The only possible answer, however impossible it seems. Looking straight at me, his little varmint antennae waving -
The cockroach.
No – I must be making this up. We’re not in a cartoon. The cockroach hasn’t got massive eyes, or a hat, and he isn’t singing a song. I definitely don’t think he’s going to grant me a wish. He’s just an insect sitting in my hand.
And yet I can hear him. He’s trying to speak to me.

Do you want to know how a cockroach could possibly spring Kester Jaynes out of his prison at Spectrum Hall? Well it’s pretty hilarious and you’ll have to read the book to find out.

I really enjoyed this story. It’s a cracking adventure, nicely written with a light humorous touch, but it still contrives to feel really seriously important...which it is, of course, the saving of the very last wild.

What can I read next?

There’s more! It’s a trilogy:

  • The Last Wild
  • The Dark Wild
  • The Wild Beyond

You might like to look at this epic folk tale by Katherine Rundell which is written with a similar sort of balance between wicked humour and just plain wickedness:

And you might enjoy the Far Flung Adventures by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell with their ever resourceful heroes and heroines:

If you fancy a slightly more serious read on the same sort of topic...the supermarket shelves are running out and they won’t be refilled again in your might like to try these titles by Jeanne Duprau:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

The Last Wild features in these lists: