This short book, by the lovely and passionate zoologist and broadcaster, Nicola Davies, has a stunning, haunting and magical quality to it. Its edgy illustrations, from Beth Holland, give its story an elevated feel and show the reader how much this book is about nature and what people do to the environment.
Nant is a young marshland girl with the curiosity of a wildcat. She serves her cruel master Dith, who regularly punishes her for asking too many questions about her environment and its wildlife. And, in this story, Dith really does come across as an abusive man who – I think – symbolises humanity’s disrespect for nature.
Nant is out eel fishing with Dith on day and she wishes to know simple answers lto a question like: where do the slippery, silver eels come from and where do they go? But Dith dismisses her curiosity, smacks her and forces her into the river to gather the eel traps. It is here Nant is upset to find drowned eel pups and their grieving mother. With no compassion, Dith kills the mother, but Nant manages to save the life of one pup.
After this, something happens to Dith and Nant is blamed for it by her townspeople. They treat her like some kind of witch, whereas she is really only a Greta Thunberg type young girl who merely wants to live in harmony with nature, not hurt it.
The story really is pretty shocking and heart-breaking in places, so isn’t for really young children, but this cruelty is written in a believable and strangely beautiful way. Nicola’s metaphorical prose makes the book feel like a parable on the state of nature rather than just a story of a cruel man hurting a curious girl. This story is a very typical one right now, and it is written in a rightfully no-holds-barred, beautiful fashion here.