Oy Yew is book I of the Waifs of Duldred Trilogy and was long-listed for the Times/Chicken House prize for children’s fiction. I would have awarded it first place. Occasionally I pick up a YA book to read and the title of this one intrigued me. I discovered it is a terrific read, one I could not put down, and I think anyone from 12 to 100 would love it.
The author has created a totally believable and engrossing dystopian world, one in which goodness blossoms and evil exists but is not spelled out. It begins with a small boy, so small and pale that no one notices him. He lives outside a bakery in Affland, living on the wonderful smells of bread and sweets and scraps from garbage. When he is mistakenly nabbed as a Porian – a child discarded from that land and sent by raft to drift to Affland or die on the way – he is brought to a factory to work. When asked his name, his captors say he responds to “Oy, You!” and he is named Oy Yew.
Oy Yew slaves away in the factory along with other waifs, who are fed little and worked hard. He makes his first friend and is enjoying his life for the first time, but one day he is chosen to serve at Duldred Hall. ‘Lay low and grow,’ is the motto of the waifs of Duldred Hall, because if they reach the magical height of 5 thighs 10 oggits, they get to leave their life of drudgery. But their Master, Jeopardine, is determined to feed them little and keep them small.
The manor is populated by all sorts of great characters with names that look familiar but aren’t, and the waifs themselves are given names according to their assigned work. Oy becomes Drains, because he is small and can get into drains and sewers to clean them. There’s Stairs and Ceilings and Peelings, too. The waifs get around to clean, polish, change linens and sheets, etc by a system of small waif tunnels that run between floors and rooms, so they are not seen. When the head cook falls ill, and Molly, her assistant, is unable to make the complicated dishes demanded by Jeopardine for himself and his guests, Oy steps in. It seems he has a real knack for cooking, although where he learned it, no one, not even he, knows.
Even the diseases which strike Master and waif alike are fascinating. Oy is afflicted for a short while by seeing small, incredibly hued fish swimming around in his eyes.
Jeopardine is a collector of bones and will do anything to become the next President of the Grand Society of Ossiquarians. Even though Oy becomes invaluable as a cook, the reader gradually becomes aware that Jeopardine values the bones of Oy even more, and his methods of working the waifs and particularly Oy, become sinister.
There are many mysteries in addition to the fate of the waifs. Who and what is Oy? He is not a Porian but doesn’t know where he came from or who he is, just that he is different. Can the waifs escape? Who can they trust? What will happen as Jeopardine descends into madness?
Oy Yew is a children’s classic for adults, too. It tickles the brain as a lighthearted fairy tale with a murder mystery and an adventure story. This is a book I will definitely read again, and if I could give it ten stars, I would. I can’t wait for the second book in this series.
About the author
Taken from an interview by Maddy at Writing Bubble
Ana Salote’s father was a heavyweight boxer from Tonga, her mother was a Derbyshire miner’s daughter. She grew up among strong characters with constant drama, and it became a mine of material. She attended a comprehensive school where the teachers but left at 16 and went to the university of life, one of reading. She now lives in Somerset, England, which she finds a beautiful, magical place.
Ana find some things are intrinsically magical: acorns, seahorses, teapots, owls and chimneys. Chimneys seeded the central mystery of Oy Yew. The character of Oy is based on a real person: a shy, sensitive character with a voice you strain to hear. She is also fascinated by nature and nurture.
As a writer, Ana is a pantster. She kicks off with a trigger then runs with the scenes, and plot ideas form as she writes.
The next two books in the series set for release at yearly intervals, with the next one out in December. I can’t wait to read it!