The Council of Animals by Nick McDonell
Actual Rating: 5
Huge thanks to Henry Holt and the author for sending me a free copy in exchange for an official review!
Wow, I just had such a blast reading this (all in one sitting, waiting at the optometrist’s office).
The first thing that stood out to me was the writing style. It’s just witty, fun, and utterly captivating. It gives me Neverending Story or Edward Scissorhands vibes — the magic of someone reading a bedtime story to you and the childlike wonder you’d feel, debating whether it was real or not. The fairytale/fable feeling of this book really comes across well, especially with the little puns that are scattered throughout, the little tangents about the mysterious identity of the storyteller, and the sketches. They really brought the story to life and helped me immerse myself into the world. The prose was just gorgeous.
The way world-building is done in this book is the perfect definition of “less is more.” Historical events are spoken about in very subtle terms — references to what humans did, to something called “The Calamity.” The narrator drops just enough bread crumbs for us to be intrigued and get a sense of what happened, but not too much that it loses the mystery and narrative voice.
The characters are all so interesting and it feels like each animal representative genuinely expresses the feelings of their species; there’s surrealism to the way the animals talk about the situation they’re in and the reasoning behind their decision-making, and it just adds so much to the immersion.
All this is just to say that the book is extremely satirical, but the political and social commentary is really strong, from the human role in pollution and global warming, to the failure of the political process and its smoke-filled rooms, to the inequalities and beliefs passed down through generations.
Overall, this was a really quick read, but I loved everything about it, from the general world-building and addition of some fantasy elements, to the character growth of different animals, to the final genius resolution. I’d highly recommend this to people of all ages — it really feels like a classic in the making.