• Paperback Snob

This magnificent book will take you running with wolves

Wolfstongue by Sam Thompson, Little Island

Silas has speech difficulties and is being bullied at school. A simple act of kindness leads to a life-changing journey into a parallel world of wild animals. Silas befriends two wolves who are being hunted by a manipulative and oppressive community of foxes. The foxes model themselves on humans and have adopted all our worst traits. Can Silas help the wolves to escape from the foxes who wish to enslave them?

I found Wolfstongue quite moving and was frequently anxious on behalf of the characters. Silas is a wonderful protagonist, as are the wolves. I love how Silas doesn’t always know what to do, and often makes mistakes - he’s extremely relatable. It’s brilliant how there were no quick or magical fixes in this story. Although he can now navigate two worlds, Silas still needs to resolve his issues in the human domain himself.

This is an interesting exploration of the power of language. Words cause pain to both Silas and the wolves, enabling their respective enemies to persecute them. When Silas is with the wolves, he has no trouble speaking. As tempting as it is to run from his problems, especially when offered a way out, Silas chooses to face them. Silas’ relationship with the wolves gives him strength and confidence, and even if his circumstances don’t change overnight, we get the impression that they will.

The wolves, Isengrim and Hersent, are amazing. Their relationship to one another and their pups is as fascinating as it is tender. Their behaviour is how I imagine real wolves would act, and speak too. One of my favourite passages in the book is when Hersent describes hunting to Silas, and the understanding the wolves have with their prey.

Wolfstongue feels like a future classic and reminded me a little of Watership Down by Richard Adams. I couldn’t get over how evocative this book is - I really felt I was getting under the skin of the characters, and dashing through undergrowth with them. Thompson’s descriptive writing style generates a strong sensory experience. Each scene is vividly brought to life with scents and sounds as well as visuals. The reader feels as though they themselves are deep within a thick forest or underground tunnels for the duration of the book. The accompanying artwork by Anna Tromop is beautiful. Atmospheric black and white illustrations appear throughout the text and lure the reader further into the story’s fictional realm. This is Booker long-listed author Sam Thompson’s first children’s book, but hopefully not the last. Wolfstongue is a powerful and poignant middle-grade debut from a remarkable talent. About the author: Sam Thompson grew up in the south of England and now lives in Belfast. His first book Communion Town, which is about a kaleidoscopic city, was longlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. His second book Jott is about friendship, madness and modernism. It was shortlisted for the 2019 Encore Prize. Wolfstongue is Sam’s third book.

Sam’s short fiction has appeared in anthologies from No Alibis Press and Salt Publishing and on BBC Radio 4, among other places. He has written for the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books and other periodicals. Sam has also taught English literature and creative writing at Oxford University, Oxford Brookes and Queen’s University Belfast.

Wolfstongue is published by Little Island Books on 6th May – see this book on the publisher’s website. A huge thank you to the lovely people in Little Island for kindly sending us a copy of this book in advance of its publication. All opinions expressed are our own.