Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Foxcraft: The Taken - by Inbali Iserles

Inbali Iserles
I first met Inbali Iserles some years ago, when she and I both had books out with Walker Books. I'm not sure which mine was: probably The Willow Man. Hers was called The Tygrine Cat, and it was amazing. It was an animal fantasy, about, well, cats. Inbali posited that there is a line of aristocratic cats descended from ancient Egyptian ones, and the book followed the fortunes of the young heir. It was a beautifully written book, and notable for the way Inbali immersed herself completely in the world of cats; she described the way they move, think, behave, in such closely observed detail that it was difficult to believe she hadn't actually been one at some stage. It's a very long time since as a child I read Paul Gallico's books about cats, Thomasina and Jennie; but I think The Tygrine Cat had a similar feel to it.

Now she's chosen to enter the world of foxes. It's an interesting choice of species. Of course, foxes have been a staple ingredient of fables and fairy tales for probably as long as the stories been told: and they aren't usually the heroes. The persona attached to them is frequently that of the sly trickster: cf the tale of the three little pigs, or the cunning charmer in The Gruffalo. And in real life, vilified as hen killers, they have traditionally been hunted. Recently, they've moved into the cities where their behaviour seems to be changing; no longer the shy creatures of the countryside, they have become, it seems, more bold and more visible, lured by the easy pickings in dustbins and parks.

Inbali, however, tells her story from inside the heads of foxes. Her point-of-view character is Isla, a fox cub living in the Great Snarl (London?) initially with her parents, brother and grandmother. Isla's story begins when she loses them all, and finds herself alone and vulnerable - at the mercy not only of the furless (us) with their fearsome manglers (cars), but of a mysterious and terrifying group of other foxes who seem to be intent on hunting her down. Her only ally is a fox called Siffrin, who begins to initiate her into the mysteries of 'foxcraft'. He's charismatic and powerful - but is he what he seems? Is he really on her side?

Like The Tygrine Cat, this is beautifully written, with richly realised characters and an epic feel to it. Clearly, it's the opener to a series. I'm very much looking forward to the next one.


  1. One night I was sleeping in the cashpoint foyer of East St, Chichester. It was a freezing cold February night, so it had to be done. And besides, with all the overdraft interest I'd paid them, I felt they owed me.

    So anyway, about 2am, I suddenly awoke. As I checked through the window for any suspicious activity outside, I saw a fox sauntering up the middle of the street.Wandered over to the phone shop. A few sniffs. Then diagonally across to the Chinese restaurant. A more prolonged sniff around, then on past the bank.

    Quite surreal, and beautiful.

  2. Lovely. I can just picture the moment from your description.