Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Guest Review: The Taken (Foxcraft, #1) by Inbali Iserles

The Taken (Foxcraft, #1)
by Inbali Iserles
Pub: 2015
252 p.
(reviewed from uncorrected proof / advanced copy)
Jacket Summary:  Isla and her brother are two young foxes living just outside the lands of the furless -- humans. The life of a fox is filled with dangers, but Isla has begun to learn mysterious skills meant to help her survive. Then the unthinkable happens. Returning to her den, Isla finds it set ablaze and surrounded by strange foxes, and her family is nowhere in sight. Forced to flee, she escapes into the cold, gray world of the furless. Now Isla must navigate this bewildering and deadly terrain, all while being hunted by a ruthless enemy. In order to survive, she will need to master the ancient arts of her kind -- magical gifts of cunning known only to foxes. She must unravel the secrets of foxcraft.
Thoughts: My favorite thing about this book was its narrative voice. In writing Isla the author perfectly captures the thought styles and patterns of a young creature and does so without making her narrator seem stupid or too flighty. Isla is smart and opinionated, though lacking experience of the world outside of her home. The story is told in first person from her point of view which can feel limiting and frustrating, as Isla knows next to nothing about the Taken, the mysterious foxes who are pursuing her, or about foxlore and the ways of the foxes from the Wildlands. Isla’s companion Siffrin- who appears as a guide and protector, as well as surrogate family and potential love interest- refuses to explain anything to her about the Taken and only sometimes explains the ways of foxcraft to her. This limiting really helps draw the reader in to Isla’s quest and the vast impossibility of her being able to find what it is she seeks.
I really enjoyed the book as a small twist on the classic “chosen one” narrative: It is Isla’s brother, Pirie, whom Siffrin initially seeks, having been sent by a prophecy of the Elders to bring Pirie back to the Wildlands. Siffrin only stays with Isla at first because she also seeks Pirie. With the disappearance of her family, Isla finds herself thrust into situations where she has to rely on herself and her own wits, and she discovers that she is not quite good enough to survive on her own: she is too impatient to hunt well, and she is too adventurous to keep herself out of situations where she is chased by dogs or hunted by the “furless.” When the mysterious Siffrin appears to help her she must balance her Greatma’s advice- trust no one who isn’t family, for a fox has no friends- with the realization that he is much better equipped to deal with certain aspects of the world than she is. She is actually better at some things than he is though, and she eventually puzzles out some of his mysterious backstory- a subject on which he refuses to speak truthfully- for herself and has to deal with the reality that he has been withholding information from her. Through her hardships Isla discovers the strength within herself to make her own choices, and to deal with the impossibility of her task.
As for things I didn’t enjoy in the book, Isla having a potential love interest is somewhat problematic, since she is still referred to by all as a “cub,” only on the cusp of adulthood. However, while Isla refers to him several times as “handsome” and occasionally gets a strange feeling when she looks at him, this is very much played down. How their relationship does develop in this book left me very comfortable with any potentiality for further relationship growth in further books.
My least favorite thing about this book is that it presents a somewhat limited view of the other “cubs of Canista”: wolves and dogs. When one of the characters describes them, he calls dogs slaves of the “furless,” too desirous of fitting in to exert their own will, and describes wolves as slaves to the structure of the pack, afraid to live alone. This has to be taken in the context of the speaker, as foxes usually live alone or in small family groups, and isn’t the least bit unrealistic in perspective as foxes are hunted by both wolves and dogs, but still, as someone who likes all canids, I found this to be rather overtly xenophobic on the part of the foxes.
Overall, this book was a great set up to this world, and I’m looking forward learning more about these characters in future installments.
The Taken will be released in hardcover on September 29, 2015.
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