Thursday 7 July 2022

Tyger - written by SF Said, illustrated by Dave McKean - reviewed by Dawn Finch (McLachlan)


First the blurb...

"In a strange alternate world, where the British Empire is still a cruel ruling force, a young boy called Adam has uncovered something incredible in a rubbish dump in London. A mysterious mythical animal.


The Tyger is in danger, and Aam and his friend Zadie are determined to help. However, they soon realise it isn't just the Tyger's life at stake: the world they live in is also on the precipice of darkness. Luckily, the two children have great powers within them, and the Tyger can show them how to harness what's inside."

It is not hyperbole to say that this is one of the most anticipated books of the past few years. Talk and whispers of what Tyger might look and read like have been drifting around social media for a good long time and it was with no small delight that I opened the package that dropped onto my mat. An advance proof of a book with such an advance buzz around it is always a thrill and this was no different. 

Said is a most unusual writer because it is so hard to fit his books into any particular slot. They often walk a beautiful line along the parallels of graphic novel (working alongside the superb illustrations of Dave McKean* SEE FOOTNOTE) and cult novel. Said's fans (of which I'm one) are happy to talk for hours about the subtle undertones and messages within the text and to discuss deeper meanings. Varjak Paw is an absolute classic and with books like Phoenix adding to the Said shelf it is clear that there was a lot of weight and expectation on Tyger.

Breathe easy, it delivers. In spades.

Adam lives in London. A sort-of London. A London of slavery and subjugation, of violence, racism, and ruin. A London where the Empire continued to develop into brutal colonial fascistic masters. Art, imagination and creativity are crushed and there is no space for many for anything other than adherence to the brutal rules of the state, In this hideously broken (yet painfully familiar) city Adam ekes out an existence helping his father with deliveries from their little alterations and repairs shop. It is on one of these deliveries that Adam is saved from a violent attack when he is protected by a great beast that is hiding out in a vast city rubbish tip.

This is Tyger. This wounded and hunted beast has been speared through its shoulder and yet still comes to Adam's rescue. Adam instinctively does not fear this wild animal and instead helps to remove the broken arrow. The great animal then thanks him. Not with an animalistic sound or act, but with a voice that he can hear and that makes his skin tingle. She calls him "Guardian" and thanks him for helping her.

This is the start of an adventure that whirls through the streets of this hideous London as Adam learns more about Tyger and her purpose and her needs and his vital importance in finding this "Guardian". He meets both friends and foes as he develops his own natural gifts and the city is revealed to him as something new and different. Bit by bit Tyger teaches Adam that everything is not always what it seems to be. In darkness there is light, in desperation there is hope, in filth there is gold. As Adam's perception is altered and expanded by these new powers and philosophies the city and his life takes on a new perspective.

Adam, and his new friend Zadie, must do all they can to protect and help Tyger, but she is hunted. They are being stalked by forces that want to trap Tyger and cage her, and kill her. If this happens she will never fulfill her purpose. In a city that is bubbling up with fear, hate, resentment and violence, can Adam and Zadie save her and and help her carry out her task on Midwinter Night before the hangings? Nothing is certain...

There is no doubt that this book earns one of those rare spots on the shelf marked "Future Classics". It is a remarkable work that will be forever discussed and dissected as people analyse every aspect and write essays on the metaphors and deeper meanings. But set that aside for now because to dissect this work too much is to risk the joy of losing yourself to the story and the imagery. Tyger is not a blunt instrument of warning or metaphor but rather an elegant tapestry of threads that catch you and make you look longer, and deeper. A tapestry that you will return to and follow the threads anew to things you had not noticed at your first glance.

We can learn from Tyger, but not in a way that preaches or nags, We can absolutely learn that nothing is ordinary.

Tyger - written by SF Said and illustrated by Dave McKean will be published by David Fickling Books in October 2022


It is worth noting here that I have chosen to not review the illustrations for Tyger yet as the proof copy only has a very small selection. The first few, however, show that this book is going to be every bit as extraordinary as McKean's work usually is. I have decided that I will review the illustrations of Tyger separately later in the year when I can do them justice and review the visual experience of the book properly.

Dawn Finch (McLachlan) is a children's writer and poet and is the current chair of the Children's Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG) at the Society of Authors.

tweets @dawnafinch

instagram @dawnamclachlan

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