As soon as I started reading this new publication by Anna Hoghton, author of The Mask of Aribella (2020), I was immediately certain that this is my favourite read of 2022, and I am confident it will remain so. Orla and the Wild Hunt is instantly immersive as you are transported to Ireland with Orla and her brother Apollo as they journey there to stay with their Gran. The first time I picked up this book I read over 100 pages of it, longing to stay in the enriching atmosphere that Anna has created, and enjoying the dark mystery that was unfolding with every page I turned. This is definitely one of my favourite kind of children’s books to read as it features myths and legends that have been passed down the generations of Orla’s family, and exist in real life today, and these stories are woven together with a darkness/evil that keeps you on the edge of your seat through all of the tension and suspense that such has to offer.
Things start to get strange not long after Orla and Apollo arrive at their Gran’s, with strict instructions to keep all doors and windows locked, and not to venture outside in the dark. There is also news over the radio of a local person going missing from their bed, and Orla finds newspaper clippings her Gran has collected of other similar news reports. The children also find their Gran is keeping an animal in her shed that they are led to believe is a nasty stray cat, but Orla suspects their is more to it, especially when she finds a big padlock has been put on the shed door. It gives you a very unsettling feeling, as you know something bad is going to happen, but never could you imagine everything that unfolds for the siblings after they discover their Gran has disappeared from her bedroom, with only a black feather left behind as a clue to what happened to her.
What helps Orla and Apollo through everything they have to endure over the coming days is their vast bank of stories told to them by their Gran, and their Mum, over the course of their childhood. These stories told of magical characters and mysterious creatures from local myths and legends, and this not only gives them a certainty as to who has taken their Gran, and the other people that have been reported missing in the previous months, but also a direction to head in with their determination to rescue their Gran and return her home to them. They begin their journey by discovering the truth as what exactly is being held captive in the shed, and find themselves entering the worlds of so many myths and legends that they had discarded as mere stories all these years.
With the reluctant help of the creature in the shed, a Pooka, the trio set off in search of a way to bring Gran back to them, because the reality of the situation has sunk in with Orla and Apollo, their Gran has been taken by the Wild Hunt, a shape shifting darkness that has bad intentions as they feed off of the sadness in humans, which is very much apparent in Gran, and the two children to different extents, because Orla and Apollo’s mum died just a few years prior, and they are still carrying their loss with them. It is their grief that has isolated them from friends as much as it has one another, as they struggle to cope with the heavy burden of how they are feeling, but it strengthens their bond with one another and their determination to be reunited as their journey reaches its conclusion, and is a theme that ties the story together too.
When I returned to Orla and the Wild Hunt for a second time (on the same day that I had started the book) it was to read a further 100+ pages, as I could not wait to find out where the Pooka would take the two siblings, and what awaited them. Orla had already stumbled upon the world of Fairies, but had believed it to be a vivid dream, so combined with the existence of this strange creature they had befriended in the garden shed I was really hopeful that this awesome story telling, and incredible landscapes that were revealing themselves along the way, would continue – and I was not let down, and very pleasantly surprised by not only how many locations Orla and Apollo visit along their adventures, taking them across Ireland and to the sea, but also by the vast array of magical and mythical creatures they become acquainted with too.
Giants, Water Sprites, Merrows (Mermaid-like creatures), Fairies, and of course the Wild Hunt, all feature in this book at different stages of Orla and Apollo’s journey to rescue their Gran, and as I mentioned above they each have differing locations that see us travel to The Giants Causeway, Spooky Woods, under water in the ocean, and other exciting destinations, of which each holds challenging circumstances that must be overcome in order to ultimately continue in trying to rescue Gran, and they must hurry because after three nights of captivity with the Wild Hunt a person is lost to the world because the Wild Hunt take the emotional and mental aspects of the person away, and add them to their ever growing army of creepy creatures of shadow and darkness.
I finished my journey with Orla, Apollo, and Conor – a young boy that is a friend of Grans, and who has been by their side since they discovered the Pooka in the shed – the very next day, as I found myself longing to return to it, eager to know how it concludes, and whether the children are successful in their determination to rescue Gran. It is such a brilliant book right through to the very end, of which I am delighted that it leaves open the potential for a sequel because I would love to return to Orla, Apollo, Conor and Gran – and the many friends they made along the way. The utterly brilliant way that everything is linked together in this book, and all the awesome elements it offers readers makes it such a compelling read that you do not want to put down. I highly recommend it as a book that children will enjoy escaping into over the summer break, and know from first hand experience that this spooky suspenseful mystery will be incredibly popular in school libraries, and classroom reading corners, because this is exactly what children are asking for when choosing their next reading for pleasure title, and with a cover as mesmerising as the one on this book it will be snapped up.
I’ve tried to keep as specific details about this must read publication as vague as possible because I am keen to avoid influencing a readers prior knowledge of Orla and the Wild Hunt as much as possible so that their first experience of this book is as awesome as my own, but I will definitely be returning to this book over the summer, and look forward to returning to this Irish myths and legends based adventure, of which some other myths and legends have been mixed in too, because this for me has been a fabulous reading experience through the level of depth and detail that has gone into it, and makes it an unforgettable adventure that feels so vivid and real, and I will cherish the characters that featured in Orla and the Wild Hunt for many years to come.
Other books I would recommend after you have read this, which are similar in spooky context, are
- The Switching Hour by Damaris Young
- The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods by Samuel J. Halpin
- Crater Lake 1&2 by Jennifer Killick
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