I have been eagerly awaiting Orla and the Wild Hunt by Anna Hoghton and it is more than I could have ever hoped for! Dark folklore combines with the unbreakable spirit of children to create a story packed full of peril, sacrifice, loyalty, friendship and love.
Orla doesn’t sing anymore. The death of her mum is too difficult to think about and music reminds her of everything she’s lost. When Orla and her cheeky brother, Apollo, visit their gran in Ireland, they’re reminded of how good life used to be – and maybe could be again. They love listening to Gran’s stories of the magical creatures who live in the Tangled Woods near her house.
But something is wrong. Gran is not quite herself – nervous, sneaking out in the night, locking all the windows and doors. People from the village have been going missing and no one knows why. When Gran disappears, Orla thinks she might know what has happened. Joined by Connor, a mysterious boy who claims he’s a friend of Gran, they head out into the woods to fight the darkness – The Wild Hunt.
What follows is a thrilling adventure full of folklore and Celtic tradition. A reluctant pooka and a well-meaning giant help the trio as they face water sprites, merrows, faeries and ultimately, the shadowy evil that threatens to take away every bit of happiness and conquer the mortal world. The magic and mystery of Irish folklore leaps off the page as readers join the children on their quest to save Gran, and themselves, from overwhelming sadness.
The real power of this story comes through Orla and the emotional journey she undertakes Controlled by her grief, she has pulled away from everything important to her. As she searches for her gran, she has no choice but to face up to what has happened and forge a new path. Finding her voice again, Orla realises that she and her brother need each other and can face anything together.
Despite heavy themes of grief, loss and battling darkness, Orla and the Wild Hunt has delightful moments of comedy and fun. The pooka and the giant, Fionn, absolutely steal the show. The pooka is brutally honest and rude yet incredibly loyal while Fionn would do anything to protect his small friends. This unlikely pair has found a place in my heart and do so much to make this book really special.
The magic of the story is beautifully captured by illustrator David Dean. The cover and inside flaps are stunning. Orla and Apollo are very much visitors to a world mortals rarely get to see. These illustrations give us a wonderful glimpse of just how privileged they are.
Anna Hoghton is an award-winning poet and film-maker inspired by travel, adventures and stories. Her debut children’s novel, The Mask of Aribella, was published to critical acclaim in 2020.
You can read my review of The Mask of Aribella here.
I have included an extract of The Mask of Aribella in my comprehension book – Contemporary Children’s Literature: Years 5/6.
Click on the covers below to find out more or purchase on-line from bookshop.org Amazon.
Books by Kate Heap:
Available to pre-order: