There’s much to touch on with Eleanor Glewwe’s second novel, from how we view others and how we treat them to the prejudices in our own families and how that colours what we observe in the world. Wildings is a sombre tale in some ways, with a very stern father and a melancholy (yet hopeful) conclusion. And yet for all that, it’s an intriguing book with enjoyable characters.
The story is set in the same world as Glewwe’s first novel, Sparkers (Viking Books for Young Readers, 2014). The core of this book is the chronicle of Rivka Kadmiel and her search for her twin brother, Arik.
Wildings begins in the city-state of Atsan, where the siblings were born, and then moves to the neighbouring city-state of Ashara. In both places (and the surrounding city-states), people are kasir (born with magic) or halan (born without).
Subplots abound and are interspersed with magic, politics, and ruminations on race, class, and identity. Family laws are in place to ensure that kasir and halan do not intermarry, in order to have kids just like their parents.
Magical talents begin to manifest during childhood, and a test is done at age 10 to confirm its existence or absence in a child. Should children born to halan parents posses magic (or vice versa), they are taken from their family and a forced adoption happens in accordance with the law.
The children’s birth records are expunged and all contact with birth families becomes illegal and they must adjust to a new reality with their kasir (or halan) family.
According to the law, a child with magic couldn’t possibly receive a full education if they’re raised by halan parents. Conversely, a child without magic would feel left out and jealous having kasir family members who can perform extraordinary feats that they can’t.
In Wildings, the kasir form the ruling class while the halan are the oppressed lower class. Ashara, however, is slowly becoming a more equal city-state for halan rights.
The crux of Wildings is that Rivka passes her test but Arik fails. He’s taken away and Rivka is forbidden to acknowledge his existence. Meanwhile, their mother dies from grief and their father does everything to preserve the family name and raise a dutiful kasir daughter.
Her father is one of the elites in Atsan, and he accepts the post of ambassador to Ashara. Rivka, having learned from her dying mother that Arik was relocated to a halan family in Ashara, schemes to accompany him on his posting. This way she can execute her plan to find and reunite with her missing twin.
Glewwe paints an interesting heroine in Rivka. Recognising our own flaws isn’t an easy thing, but as a teenaged Rivka goes on this journey, she’s forced to see her selfishness in specific situations, and with learning she tries to move beyond her petty beginnings.
Wildings foreshadowing isn’t the most subtle you’ll read, but Glewwe lays the groundwork for a payoff at the end. Giving credit to the author, even though I knew what the resolution had to be for certain problems, I was still rooting for Rivka to do what she must.
Glewwe toys with familiar young adult fiction themes like teen rebellion, authoritarian parents, and the bond between siblings. But setting Wildings apart from similar books are the threads she weaves into her story, including grassroots political changes that come from children having their voices heard.
Glewwe is a graduate student in linguistics and she plays the cello. So it’s not surprising that the world building is solid, and the great magic system she’s created employs music instead of wands in Atsan, while Ashara prefers words and gestures instead of the vocalising and instruments of their neighbour.
Of special interest is her treatment of a deaf character. In my college years, I studied sign language, motivated by wanting to communicate with someone I liked. Knowing that the nuances of sign language are beyond slowly spelled out words was a refreshing read in a book for teenagers.
Glewwe’s world isn’t sanitised of disabilities from real life just because it’s a magical realm, and she writes about the deaf with respect. Wildings is well worth picking up for any young fantasy fans, with or without a musical bent.
Author: Eleanor Glewwe
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers, YA fantasy fiction