The Wind Singer by William Nicholson (2000)
Here's a strange story. This is really a fantastic battle of good against evil set in the weirdest landscape you could possibly imagine - there are salt mines and mud dwellers and mighty battle fleets of land-wind-craft fighting ancient wars across the desert.
Evil has the walled city of Aramanth in its grip, and yet the people don't realize it. Their society is based on absolute fairness for every inhabitant:
Here were the people of Aramanth, ranked and ordered, going about the business of being tested in a manner that was fair and just. None could complain of favouritism, or of secret grudges against them. All sat the same exam, and all were marked in the same way. The able and the diligent came to the fore, as was right and proper, and the stupid and the idle slipped down the rankings, as was also right and proper. Of course it was unpleasant for those who performed poorly, and had to move house to a poorer district ...
Well, this is called satire, because it is holding something - the school examination system - up to ridicule. Really, we all know that if you are a duffer at maths you are not necessarily a duffer at life, and you are probably excellent at sculpture, or botany or something. But individuality is not valued in Aramanth. We meet the Hath family who love each other dearly but feel unable to join the general race to better themselves. They are slipping down the rankings.
Kestrel Hath throws a wobbly at school. She has forgotten her homework and is ridiculed by her class teacher until she can bear no more. She abandons school during the lunch break, trailed by her twin brother, Bowman, and Mumpo, the class dunce, who has formed an unshakeable affection for her.
Revenge is swift and bitter in Aramanth and Kestrel finds herself sentenced to lifelong special teaching. She makes a desperate bid for freedom through an open door in the Great Tower at the centre of the Imperial Palace and meets face to face with the doddering old Emperor himself. He seems to have been expecting Kestrel and tells her that the city is bound to the evil Morah. He can only be overcome if someone will go to the halls of the Morah and retrieve the voice of the Wind Singer which was taken from Aramanth many generations ago. The Wind Singer is a kind of ancient musical monument left by the old ones to the people of Aramanth in perpetuity. If only the Wind Singer can be made to sing again, everything will be alright.
Kestrel, Bowman, and Mumpo leave the city through the drains with horrifying old-children clutching at them as they go. They enter the dim and oozing world of the Underlake. And they are off on the most extraordinary adventures. A memorable and spectacular book.
What can I read next?
This is the first part of a trilogy! Have a look at:
- The Wind Singer
- Slaves of the Mastery
You might like to look at The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell:
- The Curse of the Gloamglozer
- Beyond the Deepwoods
- Midnight Over Sanctaphrax
Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:
- Barnaby Grimes: Curse of the Night Wolf by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell (Score: 96%)
- The Borrowers by Mary Norton (Score: 96%)
- Demon Road by Derek Landy (Score: 93%)
- Tin by Pádraig Kenny (Score: 96%)
- Death and the Arrow by Chris Priestley (Score: 93%)
The Wind Singer features in these lists: