Wild's debut novel, the first in a planned series, introduces 15-year-old Freedom Smith. Freedom has a preternatural talent for combat, an ability apparently inherited from a prizefighting ancestor, and one that comes in handy since he's often harassed for being a Gypsy. After Freedom spars with some skinheads who have been bullying his family, one of his assailants is hit by a bus, and Freedom is to be arrested. He's spared his fate when he agrees to go undercover. His mission: to investigate Darcus Knight, a filmmaker suspected of operating an illegal fight club that employs underage fighters in an unending high-stakes fight ("They don't question it because they are born into it, and some of them die in it, having never known anything else but the fight, day after day"). At times, this fast-paced novel struggles under the weight of several plot lines, including a scheme to create a race of fighters from Freedom's blood and the search for a missing youth. But Wild imbues her roguish hero with an appealing voice ("Adrenaline and chili are my two addictions"), and despite the far-fetched elements, the tension produces some authentic thrills. Ages 9-12. (July)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
KLIATT - Paula Rohrlick
Freedom Smith, a 15-year-old Gypsy boy, is a ferocious street fighter with "sinews of steel." He needs all his fighting skills when he's framed for a crime and, instead of going to prison, makes a deal with the police to infiltrate a secret underground bare-knuckle fight club. At The Bear Pit, wealthy men bet on the outcome of fights between brainwashed boys stoned on pills and enraged by steroid useand a monster lurks in the Pit's tunnels. Meanwhile, a girl named Java hires Freedom to find her karate-champ brother Johnny, who has become part of this same club. Freedom must battle his way through to rescue Johnny and the street children trapped in the brutal Bear Pit. This dark, action-packed tale is the first of a two-parter by a British documentary filmmaker, and it's full of vivid images. Character development isn't the novel's strength, but action fans will keep turning the pages to see how our hero will triumph.
VOYA - Matthew Weaver
Intriguing supporting characters pepper Wild's debut novel and bolster an already strong protagonist, Gypsy fighter Freedom Smith, the son of legendary Hercules Smith. While supporting and protecting his sister's family, Freedom finds himself torn between two men playing the opposite end of the morality spectrum-Wren, who works for the shadow government organization Phoenix, and Darcus Knight, who forces boys to fight one another near-gladiator style under the guise of videotaping sporting activities. Naturally Freedom goes undercover to explore Darcus's operation although not necessarily with Phoenix's full approval, which is fitting because both organizations have had their eye on the young man since he was very small. The real showstoppers here are Java, an off-kilter girl whom Freedom befriends as she searches for her long-lost brother, and Ant, the orphan waif who latches onto Freedom in Darcus's arena. They are the fullest in a whole universe of complete figures surrounding Freedom, including a clone half-brother lunatic and a group of wealthy brainwashed thugs. Readers see these characters and want to know more, as the author seems to have adopted a voice blending science fiction espionage and Grimm fairy tale. Wild's story pulsates with raw energy even as she guides it through with skilled hand. A sequel is forthcoming in summer 2008, and it will be interesting to see if Wild lives up to the promise of her first book or if she squanders an adventure that could be the next incarnation of Harry Potter.
Children's Literature - Keri Collins
Freedom Smith is an unusual teen, and not just because he is a traveler, a Gypsy. He is a descendant of Hercules Smith, a renowned 19th century bare-knuckle fighter, the first of a long line of Smith men who found glory or the grave with the power of their fists. When Freedom's attempt to protect his family from being the victims of a hate crime puts him on the wrong side of the law, he is faced with a choice: prison or working undercover for Phoenix, a covert law enforcement organization determined to break up an illegal fight of such mythical proportions most people dismiss it as an urban legend. Add to this intriguing story a young heiress determined to find her missing brother, a gang of lost boys bred to do battle, genetic engineering, and evil incarnate, and the result is an adrenaline-packed thrill ride. Kate Wild, whose work as a filmmaker documents the lives of Gypsies, includes enough information about this frequently misunderstood cultural group to engage her audience without becoming pedantic. This is her debut novel and is the first in what promises to be a unique and popular action series aimed at teen boys. This book is an ideal selection for reluctant readers.
Inspired by his ancestor, a legendary nineteenth-century fighter, sixteen-year-old Freedom Smith runs off a group of skinheads attempting to vandalize the trailers in the Gypsy community in which he lives with his sister and her family. After one of the skinheads is seriously wounded, Freedom avoids a jail sentence by cooperating with a secret branch of the British police to uncover a long-term, underground fight club. Assisted by technologically intelligent Java Sparrow, a runaway girl whose brother has disappeared into the club, Freedom infiltrates the fight club, where he finds scraggly children bred for fighting, street kids controlled by drugs, and a plot to use Freedom's DNA to clone superhuman fighters. Wild's knowledge of contemporary Gypsy life comes through in the story, although perhaps not enough for an American audience relatively unfamiliar with the long history of discrimination against the Romanies. After Freedom infiltrates the fight, the plot speeds up and feels influenced by video games and action movies, reflecting Wild's experience as a filmmaker. The book will engage teens seeking a fast-paced story, but those wanting a deeper narrative will be disappointed. Freedom's prospect with the police and Java's future school life are undecided at the end of the book, leaving room for a sequel and for a continuing partnership bettween them. Reviewer: Jenny Ingram
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up
Freedom Smith, 15, and his Gypsy family are traveling through England. They are a frequent target of attacks, and one night Freedom must defend their campsite from violent skinheads. When one of them is injured, he is given a choice between being charged with the crime or joining a shadowy government agency called Phoenix. Of course he chooses the latter, and must then infiltrate a secret and long-running series of gladiator-style fights. Along the way, readers find out that due to a mutant trait inherited from his ancestor Hercules Smith, Freedom has superhuman strength, agility, and senses. Later, having joined the illicit fight organization, he meets their organizer, Darcus Knight, a vampiric figure with ties to Freedom's past. This novel is all over the place. Beginning as an introduction to England's Gypsy culture (the book's strong point), it then becomes a spy novel, followed by a sci-fi action tale as readers discover that Freedom's mutant gene has been used to create a half-human monster. Yet it all wraps up tightly at the end as Freedom stops the fight game, gets enough money to relieve his family's financial woes, and joins Phoenix. Inconsistencies in tone and characterization (Freedom is unbelievably articulate and knowledgeable at times) make this an unsatisfying read, despite any potential it may have. Finally, without an informative note about Gypsy culture or a glossary, many North American readers will be at sea.
Douglas P. DaveyCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Freedom Smith is a direct descendent of Romany boxer extraordinaire Hercules, yet somehow as a result of anti-Gypsy sentiment and prejudice, he finds himself using his innate fight talent to infiltrate an illegal game. Wild's character development is about on the level of Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series, yet the suspense is strong as the story develops and the evil management and abuse of the children and even adult fighters becomes clearer. The culture of the Gypsies underpins Freedom's attitudes in some ways, but never comes across with any vibrancy. Java, a somewhat peripheral female character, provides a balance of background and class in an odd counterpoint to Freedom's physical agility and heroics. As the source for some of the more unlikely elements at the end, Java joins a cute little sister to add a tender element to the hard-hitting action. Although Freedom claims to use his talent as a last resort, it's clear that he gets into a zone where the world slows down and pain fails to penetrate in a normal way. If readers see the action as sport, they will likely appreciate how Freedom vanquishes the evil, but for others, the horrible brutality of the situation will be overwhelming. (Fiction. YA)