Author: John Claude Bemis
Genre: Middle Grade, Post-apocalyptic
Publisher: Random House
Release date: May 22, 2012
Summary: In Casseomae’s world, the wolves rule the Forest, and the Forest is everywhere. The animals tell stories of the Skinless Ones, whose cities and roads once covered the earth, but the Skinless disappeared long ago.
Casseomae is content to live alone, apart from the other bears in her tribe, until one of the ancients’ sky vehicles crashes to the ground, and from it emerges a Skinless One, a child. Rather than turn him over to the wolves, Casseomae chooses to protect this human cub, to find someplace safe for him to live. But where among the animals will a human child be safe? And is Casseomae threatening the safety of the Forest and all its tribes by protecting him?
I’ve been intrigued by the premise of John Claude Bemis‘s book, THE PRINCE WHO FELL FROM THE SKY since I first heard of it in the fall. A post-apocalyptic Jungle Book? You can’t tell me that that doesn’t sound solid. Because to me, it sounds awesome. And for the most part, THE PRINCE WHO FELL FROM THE SKY was what I hoped for: clever, adventurous, different, a little heart-warming, and fast-paced. In some ways it wasn’t quite what I hoped, too, but mostly John Claude Bemis‘s middle grade was a good read.
So here’s the skinny: A down-on-her-luck bear who has never been able to have her own cubs finds a young Skinless One (that would be a human) in the Forest after what I imagine is a plane crashes near her den. This is VERY BAD NEWS. Because, you see, at some point in the past, although we are never told when or really how or why, the animals in the Forest, led by the vicious, powerful, ruthless wolves and their leader, the Ogeema (Ogeema is a title. All of the Ogeema’s have a name, too), rounded up all the packs and attacked the Skinless Ones, and as far as the animals knew, forced what was left of the humans out of the Forest forever. Afterwards, the wolves assumed rulership over the Forest and all the animals there. So when the Skinless cub shows up near Cass’ home, all the animals FREAK the eff out. Cass, who has intense motherly instincts, takes the cub in to protect him from the wolves and the coyotes, and then sets off with her rat buddy, Dumpster, to find a safe place for him. Danger, drama, and excitement ensue.
One of my favorite things about THE PRINCE WHO FELL FROM THE SKY was the world. Perhaps not the world-BUILDING, but the world itself, if you can imagine those things as mutually exclusive. But the story and the world here were SUPER and I loved them a lot. The Forest was a great setting, with different environments for different creatures. Cass lived in a meadow, the wolves lived in a cave surrounded by carcasses of their tributes from the other animals. And I loved hearing about the world the animals lived in, ruled through fear and intimidation by the Ogeema and his pack, full of hate towards cats and dogs because of their closeness to the Skinless Ones. You got the sense that the Forest was both beautiful and dangerous.
I wish, though, that John Claude Bemis gave us a little bit more in terms of world-building. What he had was great, but I often found myself curious. The wolves rounded up to kick the humans out of the forest for good, but none of the animals know exactly what happened to the Skinless Ones that decimated them so horribly. Was it sickness? War? Disaster? Each tribe of animals has a different theory. I appreciated that the animals NOT knowing this stuff actually made some sense, but it still bothered me. And, just in general because I’m a nerd, I can always use more detail in my world-building, even when it seems overwhelming. THE PRINCE WHO FELL FROM THE SKY could have used it too, in little ways, all over the place. What was here was good and promising, and I was interested. But MORE PLEASE!
I really enjoyed reading about Cass and Dumpster’s journey to help the Skinless cub to safety away from the Ogeema and those looking to gain his favor. It was perilous and exciting. I especially enjoyed the bond that developed between Cass and the cub. One of my FAVORITE thins about THE PRINCE WHO FELL FROM THE SKY was that the animals and the humans couldn’t speak to one another. The cub (look at me, talking like a bear!) speaks literally two words that the animals understand in the whole book. But that doesn’t stop Cass and the boy from communicating with each other, or recognizing one another as trustworthy and comforting. It was really pretty sweet.
Despite a few little bothersome things with the world-building, I really enjoyed THE PRINCE WHO FELL FROM THE SKY. I read it quickly, was invested in the story, and really liked the change of pace that came from reading a book where the humans were on the back burner and were unable to communicate with the animals. This book was refreshing that way, and I appreciated that John Claude Bemis took The Jungle Book and retold it in a new way with that little but important bit of reality. This was a clever one, friends, and sweet and exciting. A very solid middle grade adventure.