Published by: Bloomsbury, 28th September 2023
With the most incredible autumnal front cover - I would love to know who the illustrator is - this new novel from Katya Balen is utterly breathtaking. For any readers who are already familiar with Balen's writing, it is delicate, fierce, raw and exquisitely beautiful. Her use of language is unlike any other author I have read and this is probably my favourite novel she's written yet...
Two red-headed sisters, Fen and Rey don't have a mother. They were left at foxlight at the edge of the Wildlands, tucked amidst the fiery fur of a fox.
But now the Wildlands are calling to the girls and, desperate to find the out the truth of their story, they trek into the unknown to find it. But the Wildlands are harsh and brutal as well as beautiful. Will the sisters manage to survive, let alone find what they're looking for..?
Yet again, Katya Balen weaves a spellbinding tale of familial love, found family and the wild but healing power of nature. As in October, October, winner of the Yoto Carnegie Medal 2022, and The Light In Everything (both novels I absolutely loved but somehow never reviewed on this blog), her heroines are brilliantly drawn - gentle, furious and full of raw emotion - with their very natures intertwining and connecting with the nature around them. Balen's novels encompass the very essence of what it is to be a child in a complicated world, exploring how they navigate seeing the world differently, how they navigate blended families and families that found them rather than gave birth to them. Using her background of working in special schools and in social care, Balen creates characters who make us feel, who ignite our understanding and empathy and who help us to distill the most important truths in our lives.
This is a quieter, yet extremely powerful read, different to your average middle-grade novel. The narrative is windier and less driven by action than many stories for 8-12 year olds but, for me, it still felt pacy. It's completely character-led, enhanced by a potent and intoxicating setting and words that fizz and sing and bite and scratch. The visual storytelling is a delight and I particularly loved the warmth of the character Lissa and the home she'd created. If any reader is in two minds whether to give this novel a try then it's definitely worth checking out Balen's novella, Nightjar, for Barrington Stoke, another incredible piece of writing with very similar themes.
A big thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for allowing me a review copy. Foxlight is available to pre-order and is released on 28th September. I can't recommend it highly enough.