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The Last Wild by Piers Torday – Review

The Last Wild by Piers Torday
Photo by Diana Parkhouse on Unsplash

The Last Wild by Piers Torday is a gripping eco-fiction children’s adventure novel. This brilliantly told story is set in a world ravaged by ‘red-eye’, a disease that kills animals after turning their eyes red. It cleverly makes readers appreciate the animals we have in the world, by exploring what’s been lost through the story. Please note the following review contains spoilers.

What is The Last Wild about?

This award-winning novel is the first in The Last Wild trilogy. The story follows Kester Jaynes, who is abducted one night from his home in Premium and taken to Spectrum Hall Academy for Challenging Children (run by the Governor, Doctor Fredericks). Kester struggles to fit in with the other children, which isn’t helped by the fact that he stopped speaking after his mother died.

One day, Kester hears a voice coming from somewhere when he is feeding one of the varmints (a cockroach). It transpires that the voice belongs to the cockroach, who is known as the General. As it turns out, Kester has a special gift. He might not be able to speak to humans, but he can hear and speak to animals. Word gets out to the animals that a human can speak to them – which has long been part of an animal dream that told of such a thing happening; “Dreams are our stories – how we learn about animals before us, dreams which have been passed down from beast to beast, since the very first to walk upon this land. And there is one dream we tell each other the most.”

One night, the animals help Kester escape Spectrum Hall and he is carried by pigeons to the Ring of Trees, a forest in the north where the last animals that have survived were led by the stag, who is their Wildness. The stag asks Kester to help them as some of these last remaining animals have caught the red eye. Kester is in a unique position to help as his father is a veterinarian. Little beknown to them the father has been working on a cure.

So begins a quest with Kester, the stag, the General, the pigeons and a wolf cub to get to Premium where they hope Kester’s father will be. Along the way, Kester meets Polly and her cat, a harvest mouse and various other animals in the forest who continue together to Premium, overcoming an angry mob of outsiders, Captain Skuldiss and his group of animal cullers, and an ominous voice in the forest which threatens Kester.

As it turns out, there’s been a major conspiracy created by Factorium which sought to dominate the food market, and Kester’s father has been blackmailed and caught up in it all. Exposing the truth endangers those in the know, and this nicely sets up the rest of the series.

The Last Wild and eco-fiction

“The only help a human can ever offer us will be the kind that aids our own destruction.”

The Last Wild is an excellent example of eco-fiction that will appeal to a mass audience. Below are a handful of notable eco-fiction themes in the novel:

  • Red eye (or ‘berry eye’) disease. This is what the plot revolves around. Experts warn that as a result of anthropogenic climate breakdown, there could be around 15,000 cases of viruses jumping between species over the next five decades, which could fuel future pandemics. Therefore, this is a very timely and important topic deserving of global attention, and yet another reason why immediate climate action is needed.
  • Pollution. “Look behind you at the sea. It is the filthiest and most p-p-polluted sea in the world.” This is another timely issue given the plastic pollution problem in our oceans, as well as the fact that in the UK our rivers and oceans are being pumped full of raw sewage.
  • Food system collapse. “First the animals we eat went, and then the bees went, and then the crops and fruit went.” We live in an interconnected world. When one species collapses, it has a knock-on effect on other species and knocks nature out of balance. This ultimately ends up having an effect on all of us.
  • Activism. “You cannot save us all, Kester. You cannot save everyone and everything.” Given the urgency of the climate and environmental crises, it can often feel like we have the weight of the world on our shoulders. This can be debilitating and cause intense climate anxiety and eco-anxiety. So this feels like a message aimed at environmentalists.
  • Species extinction. Piers explains in the endnotes that this was a primary reason for writing the book, “One of the reasons I began writing The Last Wild was my deep sadness at the rate the wildlife around us was – and still is – disappearing. A recent study showed that sixty per cent of UK wild animal species and wild plants have declined in numbers since 1962 and that one in ten are threatened with extinction.” Around the world, many species face extinction and thus we have a responsibility to rewild the world and reverse the damage we’ve caused.

It’s also worth noting that this eco-fiction novel deservedly went on to win a number of awards including:

  • Calderdale Children’s Book of the Year 2014
  • Stockton Children’s Book of the Year 2015

The Last Wild was also nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2013.


The Last Wild is a real page-turner of a story, which sweeps the read along seamlessly. It perfectly sets up the rest of the trilogy. I also really enjoyed the fact that there was humour (provided by the white pigeon who causes general chaos and confusion). But most importantly, the novel highlights a range of pressing ecological issues which the world needs to urgently address, and it does this in a subtle way so as not to draw the reader out the story. That is where the true power of this award-winning book lies, and where Piers excels.

Stories like this have the power to change how people think about the world around them and their relation to it. It’s precisely this kind of story that our world desperately needs, because time for action is fast running out.

My new cli-fi children’s picture book, Nanook and the Melting Arctic is available from Amazon’s global stores including Amazon UK and Amazon US. My eco-fiction children’s picture book, Hedgey-A and the Honey Bees about how pesticides affect bees, is available on Amazon’s global stores including Amazon UK and Amazon US.

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