Book Review: Wild Children by Richard Roberts

Wild Children by Richard Roberts is a collection of five short stories in a world where children can be changed into animals in degrees, however the change and its severity is tied in to the sins of the child. These children are considered sinners, and temptations that led others into sin by many. Others see them as angels, slaves, property, or simply unfortunate children. Each of the short stories comes from the voice of one of these 'Wild Children'. Together, the short stories serve to give the reader a better look at a sixth wild child that seems unable, or unwilling, to speak on her own behalf. The first story is from the voice of a young girl turned part donkey, a sign of great sins but displaying no actual sins to account for the change. The second story follows a cat like boy, who needs to learn about loving others more that himself. The third story is about a dove like child, full of love and faith, that needs to face her impending death of old age. The fourth story is that of twin brothers of mysterious origins who learn about love and devotion. The fifth story follows one boy, hiding his change and discovering that the path that seems so very pure and right can go horribly wrong. Together the stories give a glimpse of a larger picture of one girl, and the hope and fear that permeates the world.

Wild Children is a dark, urban style fantasy that deals with faith, prejudice, hope, and the nature of humanity. It is different, and the premise is fascinating. It seems to take place in a time like ancient Rome, where religions and beliefs clashed and led to much strife and bloodshed. Looking at the cover and reading the ages of the characters, I was expecting a lighter or perhaps younger story. However, this is definitely for teens and adults due to the heavy subjects about faith, abuse, slavery, and love. There are a few scenes of violence, including a priest hitting a child, and some more disturbing but not necessarily because of the level of violence rather than the whos and whys involved.

Now, with that out of the way. While it took me a little longer to read Wild Children than I expected, and it defied many of my other expectations as well, I really appreciated the book and the craftsmanship of it. The characterizations are deep and really draw readers into the circumstances and thoughts of each important character. Hind, the character that ties the stories together, has the least voice here, but has the most impact on the characters that readers will come to care about most.

Bray, the main wild child in the first section, begins as the one I identified with most because of her love for learning and books. Jinx, the child in the second story is unique and trapped in his own wildness until the most complex but common emotion teaches him to care for others. Coo, is the dying dove child in the third story. She is pious and often cares more for others than herself, even in her search for a higher truth, and her own soul. Left and Right, or Sinister and Dexter, are children unique in their story and have significant changes to undergo as they meet Bray and Hind. Elijah is the voice of the final perspective shown, a novice priest with a desire to be good and virtuous is slowly changing into something, but hiding it from everyone. His mentor shows Elijah the truth, but in ways no one quite expects. I loved the ending, with hints at Hind's nature and the possibility of a sequel, but no cliffhanger that requires one.

As a whole, Wild Children is a thought provoking and interesting read. I highly recommend the book to those that enjoy dark fantasy or having their ideals and view of the world challenged with simple truths put in new light. I think mature middle school children, young adults, and adults are the best audience for this book, simply because of the issues and thoughts the reader will be left with as they finish the book.
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