The Pied Piper of Hamelin appears and whisks the children away from town. But why? The original tale states that it is simply because he is irate at not being paid by the townspeople. But retelling fairy tales is a common novel theme, and many short stories and novels have mined this classic story for a more in-depth and complex tale, explaining the reasoning behind the Piper’s sometimes altruistic, sometimes cruel actions. Wild Magic by Cat Weatherill is the latest addition to this time-honored tradition.
Mari and her brother Jacob, who is lame, struggle to survive with a father who has fallen apart after their mother’s death years before. Mari is almost relieved when the Piper spirits them all off – and distraught to realize that Jacob, unable to keep up with the rest of the children, has been left behind. But as the Piper’s possibly sinister intentions are slowly revealed, she starts to be glad that her brother Jacob is safe in the real world. Jacob, meanwhile, is doing everything he can to get into the fairy world, and the Piper – laboring under a centuries old curse – is hunting for Jacob…
The reasons behind the Piper’s actions (at least some of them anyway) make sense in the context of his backstory. In some ways it’s good that the author makes it clear that even people who do bad things can still be sympathetic, but at the same time she makes the Piper a little too sympathetic and nice: looking back, it’s hard to believe his cruel and thoughtless actions at the beginning of the story, when the children have first entered the fairy hill. Similarly, the abrupt switches from Mari’s viewpoint, to the Piper’s history, to Jacob’s actions makes it difficult to truly connect with any individual character.
Lots of adventure and hair-raising (or, in many cases, hair growing) experiences make this a quick read. The characterization is a little heavy-handed – the obviousness of the subplot allowing the father to redeem himself is a bit much – but children looking for magic and danger will probably overlook such matters.