Ferals is a very atmospheric and engrossing middle grade read full of mystery and intriguing world building. Yes, a story of a boy with special ability and no parents, link to a big bad guy who wants back into the mortal realm, and a bit of magic will likely draw parallels to Harry Potter. But what we have here is a smooth integration of urban fantasy with post apocalyptic nihilism. Ferals is good enough to stand on its own merit and keep young (and older) readers engrossed.
Story: Caw lives in the park, abandoned by his parents and with only crows for companions. The crows, with whom he can communicate, have helped him to survive since he was six; but when he witnesses mysterious criminals escape the local prison, he is bound inexorably with the events of the Black Summer a decade previous. A time that saw his parents killed and the town nearly destroyed. For the city of Blackstone is home to the Ferals – those who can communicate with animals. And one particular Feral isn’t satisfied with staying in the shadows.
The plot involves Caw understanding his past, learning more about what it means to talk to the crows, and the world around the City in which he lives: Blackstone. There is a strong post apocalyptic flavor but the bigger picture is eschewed in favor of a tight focus on fourteen year old Caw. Admittedly, I would have liked to know more of the bigger picture, it was just a bit too nebulously defined. But that nitpick aside, the story is very well drawn.
Ferals also has a great cast of characters – from people to animals. Caw, although a loner for most of his young life, will be drawn to prison warden’s daughter Lydia, a girl his age who has everything Caw does not – home, hearth, and parents. Together, they explore the mystery of Caw’s family and heritage. Since the perspective is from Caw only, we get a cast of crow personalities as well – some mysterious and others persnickety.
The ‘magic’ system is very intriguing. The titular group, Ferals, each communicate with one type of animal/insect. How each use their gift and their animal familiars provide quite a bit of the fascination in the story. From centipedes to squirrels, foxes to rats, there is a lot to explore. A gothic, almost Dickensian feel despite the modern trappings provides much of the flavor in the story. Author Grey deftly avoids anachronisms and keeps the story fully on Caw’s struggle to discover himself. It makes for a good middle grade read as a result.
In all, I greatly enjoyed the story and look forward to passing it on to my 12 year old next. Reviewed from an advance reader copy.