The main protagonist of Wandering Wild, Tal is almost 17. Her brother Wen, is 15. Definitely not children and not quite adults, they have always been con artists. As Wanderers, grifting your way through each little town is a part of life. Each new place is another con job just waiting to unfold. Places and names may come and go, but family and camp is forever.
Tal and Wen know that more than most. All they have ever truly had is one another. Tal is restless, even reckless, always looking for the next angle. Wen, reserved and sensitive, yearns for a more settled life and maybe even an education, but both know nothing can separate them.
Winds of change start to blow when Tal and camp pull into the quaint town called Cedar Falls. Its quiet pace and fixed lifestyle feels like prison to a Wanderer like Tal, but there’s a foreboding sense that she doesn’t want to admit, but cannot shake.
Tal meets Spencer Sway, a charming “markie” whose sweet affection thrills her, but when Felix, the arrogant Wanderer she’s expected to marry, comes to camp, it all makes her wonder: Does she really want to be a Wanderer forever? Can she give up herself for the good of her camp? Can she resist the pull to have a freedom all her own?
Jessica Taylor’s debut novel Wandering Wild ambitiously tries to blend mythical magic and gritty realism to build the world of her Wanderers, but falls short with both ingredients.
Tal is meant to tough and savvy but vulnerable- a consummate professional con artist with a conscience, but instead often reads as a boastful kid who you feel sorry because you can see right through their lies despite their posturing.
Her bother Wen, is a stronger character, there’s a sense of depth hinted there and I found myself waiting for the character to come into his own, but he serves mainly as a foil for many of his sister’s actions only.
Taylor’s strength seems to lie in her imagery. She knows how to paint a picture, but her depiction of Wanderers and their culture was so problematic that it was hard to ignore and be drawn in.
While she has stated on her website (jessicataylorwrites.com) that she doesn’t want her Wanders to be confused with Travellers or Romani, or for the characters to refer to themselves as “gypsies,” she relies heavily upon those cultural stereotypes and literary tropes to create the Wanderers as a people, which is disappointing.
Yet, readers who enjoy improbable romances and impossible triumphs will be enchanted enough by the sweet romance between Tal and Spencer and stirred by the angst in Tal’s struggle to escape Felix, to enjoy the journey despite the novel’s flaws.
Reviewer Rating: 3/5 Stars
Wandering Wild is published by Sky Pony Press and was released May 3rd 2016. It is available on Amazon and through Barnes & Noble