Orla and the Wild Hunt absolutely sang to my heart, and will undoubtedly be one of my favourite books of the year, transporting me back to my Irish childhood when I devoured books with Irish folklore, but with a fresh twist that made this an unputdownable, magical read.
13-year-old Orla and her younger brother, Apollo decide to come to spend time with their Gran in Ireland rather than go on holiday with their dad and his new fiancée to France. They have only been to see their Gran once since the death of their mother two years before. Orla hopes that a visit to her maternal Gran on the Emerald Isle will bring her comfort, and begin to fill the emptiness that grief has brought.
They soon arrive at their Gran’s cottage on the edge of the Tangled Woods, but it is not long before Orla begins to wonder if her Gran is keeping secrets from them. Why has she started to lock all doors and windows? What creature does she keep locked in the shed? Why does she keep a folder with details of the disappearances of local people?
When Gran sneaks out one night, Orla decides to follow her, but makes a terrible mistake, a mistake that leads to their beloved Gran being taken by creatures of shadow and darkness: the Wild Hunt who feed on the grief and sadness of mortals. The children have three days to rescue their Gran, or she will be lost to them forever …
With the help of the creature in the shed – a pooka – and a local boy, Conor, Orla and Apollo begin an exhilarating, action-packed, heart-racing quest to find their Gran, a quest that is brimming with danger, secrets and revelations. There are dark moments, ominous meetings, but also a wonderful warmth to the narrative that took me on a real rollercoaster of emotions.
Be prepared to meet fairies, merrow, water sprite and even a giant, but who will be friend and who foe? Irish folklore and mythology entwine perfectly with reality as the two siblings are taken on their own wild adventure, facing their grief and sadness, in their determination to save their Gran. Will they find the strength and courage to overcome their greatest fears? Can they outwit dangerous creatures who are intent on causing them harm? Can they trust those they hope to call friends?
From up here, it was easy to see how beautiful and varied the island of Ireland was. It was a land of contrasts: of water and rock, stillness and movement, harsh and soft, howls and whispers.
I loved that the story is set in both Northern and Southern Ireland, both dear to my heart as I was born in Southern Ireland, but moved to Northern Ireland when I was eleven. I particularly loved the mention of The Giant’s Causeway, one of my favourite places ever. There is a real homage paid to the natural beauty of Ireland, and its rich tradition of folklore and mythology passed to generations through the tradition of oral storytelling and songs. I also loved the dialects and turns of phrase as well as the genuine warmth, homeliness and sense of humour that really made me feel at home within this story.
Orla and Apollo are incredibly endearing characters who captured my heart. Orla is struggling to deal with the pain of grief and has withdrawn from her friends and family, denying herself her love of music for fear of the painful memories it raises, and the guilt she feels at not being able to save her mother. Apollo is kind-hearted, empathetic and clever, and sees the best in others. Both children are courageous, determined and have a strong sibling bond which helps them face their fears. Gran is a really special character who epitomises the straight-talking, kind-hearted, strong Irish grans with their love of storytelling and baking. I loved that tiffins were Gran’s speciality as these are my favourite bakes!
Oh my! What can I say about the pooka? It is easily one of my new favourite characters! It is rude with an acerbic wit and is a genius at insults, yet with a heart of gold although I think the pooka may have something to say about that!
Orla and the Wild Hunt is a truly heart-warming, mesmerising adventure where the strength of friendship and family shine through the darkness of grief and loss bringing hope, healing and love. An unmissable adventure, perfect for readers of 9+.
Thank you to Laura Smythe PR and Chicken House for an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion.