Meaghan McIsaac’s debut middle-grade novel is the first book in her Brothers of the Ikkuma Pit series, about a group of boys who have been perplexingly abandoned at birth and must learn to create their own community in an unforgiving landscape.
The story centres on Urgle, an endearingly imperfect character who makes up in heart and determination what he sorely lacks in physical ability. In the ash-covered Pit, the older boys act as big brothers, each taking on responsibility for raising a younger boy. Urgle is doing his best with his little brother, Cubby, but when the boy is suddenly carried away by a group of Tunrar (beasts from beyond the boundaries of the Pit) Urgle and a few of his brave brothers must take their first trips into the world outside their home.
Following the brothers as they encounter forests, villages, and people for the first time is fascinating. Boys do not leave the Ikkuma Pit until they reach adulthood, and none has ever returned, so Urgle has no idea what an older person looks like. McIsaac adds a dash of humour in the way Urgle initially reacts to the “melted” faces of the aged people he meets on his journey.
In an interesting gender divide that will hopefully be explored in future instalments, the Ikkuma brothers are completely ignorant about women. All have been raised to despise the unknown mothers who abandoned them, and none has met a woman since. When Urgle and the other members of the rescue party come across the Belphebans, a group of warrior women who share their story of why all male babies must be hidden and protected, the boys begin to understand the complexities of their own history.
Urgle is a fast-moving, sometimes heartbreaking adventure with enough vicious creatures and action to keep readers entertained, while imparting a subtle message that no one should be judged without having a chance to prove him- or herself.