Wild Magic, by Cat Weatherill (Walker and Co., 2007, middle grade, 278 pages) was a lovely book to read in the dark of the morning. It's a retelling of the Pied Piper story, taking the bones of that familiar fairy tale and building a magical story with them.
It was never explained in the original story just what the Pied Piper was going to do with the children of Hamlin Town, when his piping led them into the hill. In Wild Magic, the Piper has a reason--he's seeking the one magical child he was told would be among them, hoping to be free of the terrible curse that has tortured him for centuries. For the piper is actually one of the elves who live in the land beyond, and years ago he broke the laws of that realm. Now every full moon he is turned into a terrible beast...and if he can find the right child, he can pass on the curse and be free of it.
"He dared to be different. Into a sad, drab world of gray and black he had come, burning bright in turquoise and jade. Dazzling as a dragonfly. He had played a pipe and the rats had followed, dancing till they drowned in the quick brown water of the river. They had to follow him. They couldn’t resist his music. And Marianna couldn’t resist it now. It was glorious. She wanted to dance. She wanted to dream. She wanted to follow the Piper.
And Marianna wasn’t alone. The streets were packed with children. Every boy, every girl in Hamelin Town seemed to be there, and they were all dancing.
Except one." (page 4)
But the right child wasn't among those who followed his piping through the door in the rock. Marianna knew that her brother Jakob was falling behind on their dance to the piper's music, but under its spell she couldn't stop to help him, and Jakob never made it through.
In his wrath when he discovers that he doesn't have the child he seeks, the piper turns the children into animals. Now Marianna is a fox...and is pretty sure she might stay that way forever. But Jakob is still searching for a way in, and it is his magic and true heart that can save both his sister and the piper. If he is willing to pay the price...and it is a terrible one.
Weatherill doesn't go into great detail about the workings of her enchanted realm, but I think this is a strength of the book, rather than a weakness, that there is lots of unexplained magical-ness--it is the blank spaces on maps, after all, that are the most enticing. More worryingly, her transformation of Finn the Piper from child kidnapper to sympathetic character might seem, to older readers, a tad forced, and some suspension of disbelief is required to accept this.
But despite that, I found Wild Magic a rather delightful middle-grade fairy-tale retelling--there's plenty of adventure and magical world making, and it's an exciting story. I'd recommend this one highly to any young reader who's looking for enchantment.
And I'd also recommend it to anyone who was left hanging at the end of the original story. This is my favorite kind of fairy tale retelling--one that address the glaring questions left unanswered by the original. Not just what happened next, or who these people were, but why the heck it all happened in the first place!
Here are two other reviews, at Collected Miscellany, and at Book Nut.
(disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher)