Book Review – Tyger by S.F. Said

books, reviews

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’d seen this book all over but didn’t pay attention until Foyles named it their Children’s Book of 2022. I know, I’m fickle. There are so many books published each year, so you need to be discerning about what I pick up. Unless a children’s book is really making waves then I don’t tend to think about reading them. When I actually looked into this book, it just sounded like my kind of thing. I’m not a massive fantasy lover but I think children’s fantasy might be my ideal for the genre. The world-building tends more engaging and fun. A lot of the adult fantasy books I’ve read recently have been too ambitious and I haven’t connected with them. Children’s fantasy books tend to keep things a bit simpler which means they don’t get too tied up in knots.

The Tyger takes us into an alternate universe in which the British Empire still prospers. The biggest difference with our own reality is that slavery was never abolished. What s slightly more familiar is the distrust of other races by white British people. We get to see this new world through the eyes of Adam, the son of immigrant parents who works as their delivery boy. When making his deliveries, Adam notices the way people view him on the streets. People view him and his family with anger and hatred for just existing. When he meets a mystical creature who is being hunted, Adam sympathises with her. Can he help Tyger safely get back to her own realm? Or will the creature be discovered?

It’s difficult to really do this premise justice as it is tackling so many key issues. There are references to financial and class divisions. It explores race inequality and has obvious connections with the post-Brexit UK. Adam is a fantastic main character as, through his eyes, we experience what it feels like to be seen as an outsider. Adam was born in London but he constantly has to explain his background. He is used to keeping to himself and his family prevents him from pursuing his passion for drawing. The book does a great job of explaining the ridiculousness of racial inequality. The fantasy elements help to stop the book from seeming too preachy but there is a very strong message here.

In terms of world-building, I absolutely love what’s going on here. We learn about the way society has pushed immigrants into the worst areas of the city. Hidden them away so some older generations are too afraid to go beyond the safety of their homes. Along the way, Adam starts working with Zadie, another child of immigrants. She has taken to wearing a cloak to make her way around the city of London. As we traverse the capital, we see plenty of familiar landmarks in the midst of the newness.

In terms of the basic narrative, I think it was pretty good but not very adventurous. The Tyger that Adam stumbles across is more than just an extinct creature. It is an ancient force taking a physical form that fits the current universe. It has a similar kind of feel to His Dark Materials and The Chronicles of Narnia. I can see this being a great book for younger readers and there is a fair amount of excitement as the plot unfolds. It is a mature narrative but is very readable and engaging. It deals with big themes but in a way that middle-grade readers will enjoy.

If I had to come up with a gripe it would be that the final part of the novel is a bit rushed. There is a lot of build-up and then we end up racing to the finish line. Although, this is probably just because I wanted more of this world and these characters. The actual ending is beautiful and there is such great positivity here. It might deal with dark themes but there is undeniable hope as well. Tyger is the kind of book that could and should become a children’s classic. Everyone should read this enchanting and magical tale.

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