My latest reading from the books I gave myself at Christmas is the new YA fantasy, Tyger by S. F. Said. It is set at Midwinter in the harsh London of an alternative universe, where Muslims must live in a Ghetto and aristocrats own slaves. It is anti-colonial, for sure, and demonstrates the harm done by in prejudice and injustice. Yet unlike R. F. Kuang's Babel (see previous post), it is full of love, courage, and loyalty.
Of course, it is written for a younger audience—it is meant to inspire more than to shame. I love the way it values art and writing without any loss of traditional plot twists, urgency, danger, and unexpected settings. What makes it spectacular, however, is the synergy between story and illustration. There is magic in Dave McKean's complex, sophisticated art work. It illustrates the plot; but as the story progresses, it lifts the novel into the cosmic realm of Said's imagination.
It may well become the beloved children's classic that Said hopes it will.
NB: The Tyger of the title is as powerful as C. S. Lewis's Aslan. The two children, Adam and Zodie, long to sink their arms in her fur just as Susan and Lucy long to sink theirs in Aslan's mane. The two children's ride through London will remind some readers of the ride across Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In a Tyger Tale interview (with lots of McKean's illustrations), Said acknowledges the unconscious echo of a book he loved as a child; but he also points to the difficulty readers today may have with the Narnia books. His reply brought to mind something Philip Pullman said about a book he had outgrown: "I shall never disparage anything I once loved, because the love was real."