The basic premise of THE PRINCE WHO FELL FROM THE SKY is this: what if human society had all but destroyed itself, and nature had reclaimed the world? That story, at least from the perspective of the animals, wouldn’t be all that bad. Certainly, nature is red in tooth and claw, as the saying goes, but the animals have settled into their own territories, their own hierarchies. They live among the wreckage left by the Skinless (as they refer to humans), a world destroyed so long ago that for most animals the Old Devils (another name for humans) have achieved the status of myth or bogeymen. The Old Devils were hideous, terrible enemies, but they are gone, never to return.
Then a human plane crashes, and the only survivor is a small Skinless boy . A lonely bear named Casseomae finds him, and quickly becomes fiercely protective of the "cub." She chooses to defy all advice and commands, and sets off to find a way to keep the boy safe, with the help of Dumpster the rat, and later on a dog named Pang.
As seems fit for a story set in this new world, where animals have taken over the space once dominated by humans, the narrator and main characters are animals. We never get a glimpse into the boy-child’s mind, never hear what human words he might be saying. While I firmly believe this was the right choice for such a story, I found it somewhat disorienting at times. I cared who this boy was and what would happen to him, as a member of his species. I longed to know more about the human story, but was clearly (and frustratingly, even if also appropriately) locked into the animals' perspectives.
Yet I also cared about the people whose characters, histories and hopes were far more clearly expressed: Casseomae, Pang, Dumpster and others. I suppose that in itself (that I perceived the animals as people, rather than sidekicks) is part of the point. This is where we have to question the "dys-" in dystopia. Sure, this world is hostile to humans. Clearly, human civilization has collapsed, perhaps irredeemably. So for a human character, this might be a dystopia. However, for animals the world has improved. They have far more land, run far fewer risks of being shot or killed or hunted to extinction. They no longer have to fight with humans for limited resources. For nature, this is not a bad turn of events. This is a happy ending.
Speaking of endings, the fact that the boy has, by the end of the book, learned to speak a few words of Vora (one of the animals’ common languages) – as well as the fact that the meaning of “the prince” in the title never felt fully explained – to me suggests a sequel. If humans are beginning to reassert their place on the planet, this boy will be the bridge between animal society and human society, the hope for a peaceful sharing of space and resources. That’s a story I’d like to read.
Pleasingly twisty plot