Reynard the Fox

Bodleian Library. Nov. 2020. 480p. retold by Avery, Anne Louise, retel. Tr $30. ISBN 9781851245550.
Gr 9 Up–Game of Thrones meets The Wind in the Willows in Avery’s retelling of Reynard the Fox. Riffing on William Caxton’s 1481 English translation of a popular Dutch beast epic, this is set in an intricate medieval world reminiscent of Brian Jacques’s “Redwall” series, except bawdy and violent. When King Noble the Lion gathers his courtiers for a celebration, Isengrim the Wolf takes advantage of Reynard the Fox’s absence to accuse him of outlandish crimes. Will the fox be brought to justice? Or will Reynard outwit his enemies by preying on their moral failings? The joy of this book is anarchic and satirical—both Isengrim and Reynard are thoroughly culpable adversaries, matching brawn with brains. The balance between animality and anthropomorphism is humorous and designed to keep readers off-balance: a bear-knight feasts on marzipan and earthworms; Reynard considers whether to eat a suddenly deceased houseguest and wonders if peeing on your enemies is a legitimate dueling technique. Despite the animals living in a castle, Reynard lures his victims to villages where humans unwittingly do the fox’s dirty work. Not for the faint of heart, this is the most authentically medieval book young readers are likely to encounter before university. Avery includes a critical introduction, a cast of characters, and a glossary. By cleaving close to Caxton’s medieval text, the challenge of Avery’s language is equaled by the reward of world-building.
VERDICT For advanced teen readers who revel in high fantasy and loved "Redwall," Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Disney’s Robin Hood.

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