Release date: 30th September 2010 US
Genre: Fantasy / Fairytale
Target audience: 12+?
US Publisher: Razorbill
Dust City is a fantasy that plays with the concept of a fairytale – think Grimm not Disney.
Henry is a teenage wolf who is currently residing in a facility for wayward animalia. It took me a while to get my head around this idea. He is an evolved wolf if you like. Fully sentient, can communicate as if he were a human and walk on his back legs, I guess. He has a snout and a furry face; he has claws and big teeth to eat you with. But for all other intents and purposes, he is a boy. He thinks about the usual things teenage boys do: girls. But Henry has a burden to carry and that is the fact that his father is in prison for the murder of Red Riding Hood. Henry hasn’t been to visit his father since his conviction and he wants nothing to do with him.
Whilst in the home for wayward wolves, Henry avoids confrontation. Henry is different from the other wolves. He doesn’t have the competitive edge and he isn’t prone to violence. His best friend is the only hominid in the facility. Jack is a thief. This story world is part fairytale – it’s peppered with elves, dwarves and other fantastical creatures. It also part urban – the old magic which can transform you into the future best version of yourself has disappeared with all the fairies – the landscape is the city, the back streets, the concrete garden. Miracles – true miracles – are not performed any more. There is a scientific temporary form of magic which is constructed from the last remnants of fairy dust. Henry hates the dust; it’s what killed his mother.
The story is really about Henry’s journey to discover what his best self and worse self can be. Is he no better than the old wolves with a thirst for mindless violence and blood? Or is he in essence good? The story explores the nature of good and evil and how both can live inside us. The plot is driven by the question that haunts Henry – why did all the fairies leave? Where did they go? How can he get them back?
I did enjoy this book. I enjoyed the beginning more than the middle. The early parts of the novel are delightfully humorous as the author plays with the fairytale concept. I felt that it was a crazy interpretation of modern fairytale but in a really fun vibrant way. Sadly, as the novel continued it lost some of its humour and progressed into a dark tale which at times was violent. Not in a gratuitous sense but rather it took the story into a place which made it less comically bizarre and more, well... grim. My feeling is that this book would have worked better if it was a 10+ book rather than a teen book. The concept is quirky and daft so I think that would have appealed to a younger audience. I would have removed the more violent scenes and made the book shorter. The reason I think it doesn’t work as a teen novel is that there wasn’t enough introspection and emotional drive. Teen novels are perhaps known for the angst, the agonising of the main character over a personal dilemma. So for it to work well for that market, I needed Henry to express a deeper turmoil about his father’s identity and his own potential for evil.
Overall, the book is well crafted and entertaining. I certainly think it will appeal to those looking for a read that is out of the box. If you want to try something zany, Dust City will fit the bill.