Book Review, Children's Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction

BOOK REVIEW: The Wilderness Wars by Barbara Henderson

– On the back of the book –

What if nature fights back? Still in a daze, I take it all in: the wind, the leaden skies, the churning moody sea. And, far in the distance, a misty outline. Skelsay. Wilderness haven. Building-site. Luxury-retreat-to-be. And now, home. When her father’s construction work takes Em’s family to the uninhabited island of Skelsay, she is excited, but also a little uneasy. Soon Em, and her friend Zac, realise that the setbacks, mishaps and accidents on the island point to something altogether more sinister: the wilderness all around them has declared war. Danger lurks everywhere. But can Em and Zac persuade the adults to believe it before it’s too late?

Three out of five STORGY typewriters

– Short Review –

A really cool idea. A lead character with a strong voice. A cliffhanger at the end of nearly every chapter and a big finale. However, as a horror-esque story it slightly under-delivered on the creeps.


– Long Review –

I really liked the idea of this book. A remote Scottish island being developed into a luxury resort. A lead character, Em, who isn’t happy about being dragged away from her friends in Glasgow for a years, while they build it. An annoying little brother who thinks it’s an awesome adventure. Right from the start things are a little off when on the ferry to the island they are attacked by a flock of seagulls. Not so weird (I’ve been attacked by a seagull in Glasgow), and so it’s easily dismissed by the adults. Things keep going wrong, but the adults still don’t put it all together. However, Em and Zac, the only other kid her age, put it all together, work it out. No one believes them, which is the premise for many good children’s novels. Kids are more open to ideas, less set in their ways, and view the world from a different perspective than adults.

There are some nice little sub-plots on the way, such as an annoying architect, and the possibility of a spy in their camp trying to sabotage the project.  And the whole story builds to an exciting ending.

The author, Barbara Henderson, is particularly great at capturing Em’s voice: early a teenager, missing her friends, annoyed by her brother, expected to do things by her parents. And Em herself is reluctant to believe what is going on. Nature can’t be fighting back, can it?

I think this is a great idea for a book. It’s kind of a combination of a movie call The Happening and a TV series called Zoo, both for older viewers. Setting it on an isolated island is a perfect place to trap your characters, and you get a lovely sense of how beautiful the wilds of Scotland are.

However, for me the peril, while building slowly, wasn’t significant enough. I wanted to linger on the terror of the rats and animal attacks, not for gore but for tension and a greater sense of danger. As such, it did feel like a leap for me from what was happening to the big finale. It wasn’t a case of needing more, but to drill down into these moments of the animals and environment turning on the human’s. I might be being picky, and I do like horror stories more than most.

In sum, a great idea, with some nicely drawn characters, and a plot that does all the right moves. Some tense bits but could have been a bit scarier for me. Oh, yeah and there’s an environmentally friendly message. Although, Em is a litter bug at the end (tut, tut).

Reviewed by Daniel Soule


Wilderness wars is published by Cranachan Publishing and is available to buy here.

Barbara Henderson

Barbara Henderson.jpg

I’m a writer (Fir for Luck  came out in 2016, Punch in 2017), puppeteer and drama teacher living in the beautiful Highlands of Scotland.

First and foremost, my writing is aimed at children, but I also enjoy dabbling in short stories and Drama.

I’ve been part of the process of re-starting a book festival in my hometown of Inverness (NessBookFest has run a couple of times now) and am the co-ordinator of the Highland Hub of SCBWI  (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).

I love books, nature’s wild places, history, baking, folk music (I fiddle badly in my church band), old buildings, mosaics, Celtic Christianity, thick woolly jumpers…

Oh yes: And I do have a soft spot for all things puppetry. You have been warned!

Find out more about Barbara Henderson here.


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