Book Review: Orla and the Wild Hunt

Title: Orla and the Wild Hunt

Written by: Anna Hoghton

Illustrated by: David Dean

Published by: Chicken House

Orla and the Wild Hunt by Anna Hoghton

Orla and the Wild Hunt is an emotional middle-grade quest, which takes its inspirations from Irish folktales, myths and legends and is brimming with magic and suspense. The cover by David Dean is beautiful. I particularly like the fold out flaps giving a visual impression of the magical Fairy Kingdom in Tangled Woods inside the front cover and the underwater city of the merrows inside the back cover, which matched Anna Houghton’s descriptions perfectly.

The book is from the point of view of thirteen-year-old Orla who is grieving the death of her mother. She no longer sings as music reminds her of her mum and everything she’s lost. She has rejected everyone and is wallowing in this grief unable to move on, making her bitter and unhappy. She is especially angry at her younger brother, Apollo, who acts like things are ok and gets on well with everyone. This causes her to be very spiteful towards him.

She has happy memories of holidaying in Ireland with her Gran before her Mum died two years ago from an unstated illness. She reminisces about the freedom they had, the old-fashioned games they played, listening to Gran’s stories of magical creatures who live in the Tangled Woods near her house and best of all Gran’s home-cooked meals and cakes, especially the tiffin. This motivates her to choose to visit Gran in Ireland rather than go on holiday with her dad, new fiancée and her two sons. She is surprised her brother Apollo wants to come with her.

It riles Orla even more when they arrive in Ireland and her Gran is acting different. Apollo seems to have a special bond with her and Orla feels like an outsider. She can’t understand why Gran insists they keep the doors and windows locked at all times and won’t let them out after dark not even in the garden. It is the total opposite of what she used to be like. She discovers people have been going missing but believes her Gran is keeping secrets from her and is hiding something in the shed.

When Gran sneaks out one night, Orla climbs out the window and follows her to the fairies midsummer festivities where she discovers the Irish myths and legends told in Gran’s stories are all true. The thing stealing people away in the night is the Wild Hunt that feeds on people’s sadness. Gran asks the fairies to help her stop it. The fairies refuse. Orla wakes the next afternoon back in her bed and does not know how she got there. Her Gran has not been around all day. She is missing and Orla believes it is her fault, as she unlocked Gran’s bedroom window.

“…After three nights of being the Wild Hunt’s captives, mortal victims lose their minds. After three months their hearts lose all their love and the victims become Wild Hunt themselves.”

(Quote from page 35 of Orla and the Wild Hunt by Anna Hoghton)

Orla is determined to find and save her Gran from the Wild Hunt. Together with Apollo, a mysterious boy who claims he’s a friend of Gran called Connor, a rude pooka they find locked in the shed and the nonchalant giant Fionn the Pooka introduces them to in the hope Fionn will eat them, they have three days to rescue Gran, or she will become part of the Wild Hunt.

Anna Houghton cleverly explores the complexity of grief taking the reader through each stage of Orla’s emotional journey as they go on their quest to save Gran. We are shown her anger and how she is lashing out at her brother and then we see her sinking more and more into depression after the loss of her Gran. When she has to sing for the water sprites and has to give them a gift of her most treasured possession, she finally begins to accept her mother has gone and is able to move on to celebrate the good times they had spent together. It is a real journey of emotional discovery and growth.

All the characters are well portrayed, each with their own flaws that make them more endearing. I really felt for their loss of their mother and was swept away with their quest to save their Gran. The strong sibling bond between Orla and Apollo is very believable and is part of what makes this story so great. Through their quest, Orla learns they need each other and can face anything together.

This is the ideal novel for readers aged 9+. The text is well-written and flows smoothly, so suitable for reading aloud to the class, or at bedtime. It would be a great book to help young readers come to terms with grief and loss in their own lives. I would recommend this book for all readers who love fantasy adventures.

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