Firstly, a huge thank you to Titan Books for sending me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: Titan Books
Publication Date: 19/04/2022
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Fiction | Mystery | Gothic
CW: graphic depictions of death and illness
In a feral twist on crime fiction, Cal, a mutt with a criminal past, must step back into the world of animal violence to avenge the death of his wife and protect his pups from the inherent darkness of nature.GoodReads
His journey leads him out of the woods and into the dump where he spent his youth, a dump run by Maurice and his ferocious gang of rats, weasels, stoats – murderers all. Cal has to face up to his past to save his children, and protect the woods from the violence on the borders.
Meanwhile the woodland community is fraying at the seams as talk of infection and sickness is spreading like wildfire. Anyone could be rabid, and turn violent at a moment’s notice. And the local trader, that should be bringing much needed supplies to the community has vanished. With a long winter ahead, and their protector, the great brown bear, asleep on the mountainside, can the town stop their own fears destroying them?
I have been in a bit of a reading slump lately, but when this book landed on my doorstep, I knew it had to be my next read. So, I waited for a lazy morning where I could sit and devour this book in one sitting… and devour it I did!
Ragged is set in the woods where the community is on edge with a mysterious sickness beginning to show signs of spreading, not only that but Winter is starting to set in and supplies are missing. I loved the way Irvin took these very real issues that wild animals face every year, however, managed to portray them in such a way that makes you look at them in a totally different way. Irvin manages to do so much in such a short space of time, which makes for very easy reading, despite the dark and difficult subject matter.
I think it was genius to open up the novel from Winifred’s perspective; it really made the events of the novel hit much harder when you see how it personally impacts the characters who take you through the story. To be able to take a character suffering from rabies and make it feel like a genuinely terrifying and concerning possibility, especially during a very real pandemic, is skillful. Not only that but to be able to make you care so much about a character you only know for a matter of pages is truly a testament to Irvin’s wonderful writing. Each character we’re introduced to is so unique and memorable, even the villainous characters are fun to read. What I also enjoyed about these characters was how they didn’t all follow similar anthropomorphic stereotypes relating to their species, especially with G.W. the Toad.
Cal and his pups, Franklin and Gus, were such a brilliant dynamic: they were a lovely family and also incredibly complex not just because of the mysterious missing mother but also because they are dogs, a species who aren’t typically welcome in this part of the woods. I enjoyed Cal as a protagonist, there was so much at stake to find out what happened to his wife, Winifred, as well as continuing to prevent his old life from catching up with him, which becomes increasingly more difficult. Just this family alone perfectly encapsulates this world that Irvin has created. It is a world that is about the savage nature of survival but also how joyful it can be too. There were moments where it almost felt like one of Aesop’s fables, particularly with the beautiful illustrations which are sparing scattered throughout the book, and yet there were many times this could so easily be mistaken for a classic noir novel. This blend just worked so well and was so intriguing, it has a timeless quality to it and will still hit hard after every re-read.
Overall, this novel is a literary triumph from the complex characters and the writing to the pacing and the effortless flow of the different genres. Everything pieced together perfectly which makes me wonder why I haven’t seen any more of this kind of blend as it all just works. Although, it could be entirely possible that Irvin has just made it look so easy to pull off. I’m excited to read more of Irvin’s work and hope he continues to masterfully challenge the traditional concept of genre. This is a must-read whether you like fairytales and fables or noir detective fiction and classic gothic – you won’t be disappointed.