Untamed: Honesty, Power, and Reality in a Dystopian World

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Every so often, a book comes along that beautifully, powerfully reminds you of humanity. One such book is the first in a series (YAY!), entitled Untamed. Written by Madeline Dyer, this YA novel takes a look at a world that is changed - and who the changemakers are. From the start of Untamed, you're pulled into the arc of the story, as if one of the family. Then (and make note of this, so you plan for it) you won't be able to put the book down. Meals? Who needs them! Sleep? Ditto! This is one book you will fall into and emerge, changed. 

Seven, the main character, is a Seer, and throughout the book, has to contend with visions, being a bridge between two worlds (any traveler will understand this!), and fighting for herself and her family. The characters are tightly written, and each has their own foibles, as do we all. This is one of the rare books that doesn't gloss over the different aspects of being human - of succeeding, failing, wanting things, struggling, and trying your best - and is why it is such a stellar read. I fell into Seven's world, and was right there with her the entirety of the book (and then I started it again, because I didn't want it to end!). Highly recommended.

Madeline Dyer is finishing university at 20 (!) and I can't wait to read more from this exciting, promising, and thoughtful writer.  

Madeline Dyer, author of Untamed. Read our interview!

We were lucky enough to catch up with Madeline, and ask about the book, inspiration, writing, and more. Here's what she had to say...


Please tell us about your book, Untamed...

My debut novel, UNTAMED, is a dark YA dystopian fantasy. The story follows a group of Untamed humans as they're on the run, being hunted down by the Enhanced Ones who are bigger, better and stronger than they are. There are plenty of fights, lies, and secrets, and the story gets quite dark in places! But there's also a complex spiritual belief system too, which really shakes things up.

The official short summary is: When an Untamed girl is kidnapped and converted by the Enhanced Ones, she must remember who she was meant to be or else risk the extinction of her people.

And the back cover description:

As one of the last Untamed humans left in the world, Seven's life has always been controlled by tight rules. Stay away from the Enhanced. Don't question your leader. And, most importantly, never switch sides—because once you're Enhanced there's no going back. Even if you have become the perfect human being.

But after a disastrous raid on an Enhanced city, Seven soon finds herself in her enemy's power. Realizing it's only a matter of time before she too develops a taste for the chemical augmenters responsible for the erosion of humanity, Seven knows she must act quickly if she's to escape and save her family from the same fate.

Yet, as one of the most powerful Seers that the Untamed and Enhanced have ever known, Seven quickly discovers that she alone holds the key to the survival of only one race. But things aren't clear-cut anymore, and with Seven now questioning the very beliefs she was raised on, she knows she has an important choice to make. One that has two very different outcomes.

Seven must choose wisely whose side she joins, for the War of Humanity is underway, and Death never takes kindly to traitors.

And I love this book so much! It was great fun to write.

Untamed: Honesty, Power, and Reality in a Dystopian World. An interview with author Madeline Dyer

What inspired you to write this book?

I'd been toying with the idea of writing a dystopian manuscript for a while, but it wasn't until I saw the music video for 'La La La' by Naughty Boy ft. Sam Smith, that I got the spark of an idea. The actual scene that inspired me was the market scene halfway through the video, where what appears to be a human heart is sold. I immediately started jotting down ideas of what a human heart could represent—love, lust, happiness—and then I thought, what if someone could buy their emotions, just as they buy food and clothes?

From there, the idea for the Enhanced Ones—people who take chemical augmenters to control and create their emotions—was born. And, soon after that, the plot for UNTAMED unfolded, when I thought about the conflict that would arise between the Enhanced Ones and the people who want to feel their own, true emotions—the Untamed.

Seven is such an incredibly strong character - what did you draw upon, to create her?

Thank you! I'm so glad you think Seven is a strong character! One thing I noticed from reading YA novels was that there seemed to be a lack of 'more realistic' main characters; everyone seemed to be exceptionally brave, strong, clever, witty, confident, athletic... but for me that didn't properly represent reality—and certainly not me! So, I wanted to create a character who did have flaws, but it was important that this more 'realistic' type of character could still be considered as 'strong', showing that anyone can be strong if they need to be.

Physically, Seven isn't the strongest character in the book—and she's aware of this. She also gets intimidated easily, and there's a lot of prejudice directed at her from certain characters. But, Seven also has a core of inner-strength. Her thought processes are more focused on logic than the other characters', and Seven can see things more clearly than the rest of her group—at times. I tried to create a group dynamic where the flaws of one character are balanced out by the strengths of another, and I loved writing the interactions between these characters.

But it's probably Seven's identity as a Seer that gives her the most strength, and allows her to view herself as a valuable person—which again, boosts her confidence and her perception of her self-worth. And, I'm so happy that readers have picked up on this inner-strength. Despite Seven's physical weakness and times of wobbly confidence, she is strong when she needs to be, most namely in the life-or-death situations. I think it's because she's a naturally quiet person, that when the stakes are high, she knows what needs to be done, even when the more confident characters do not. She sees the world from a different perspective.

And, I think it's Seven's flaws—especially her lack of confidence—that make her relatable to readers, and therefore make her a character who people want to root for. They want to see her getting stronger and coping. And, besides, the fact that Seven is still alive in such a tumultuous world says something in itself about Seven's strength—she's one of the 'last Untamed humans left in the world' so there's got to be a reason why she's one of the survivors.

What's it like, to write dystopian young adult? What challenges and joys arise from writing in this genre?

Well, firstly, I love this genre. I love the challenge of creating a truly frightening society, and I love writing dark plots. In fact, my favourite scenes to write were the darkest ones. But perhaps my favourite thing about this genre is the emphasis on identity. Seven struggles to define who she really is throughout UNTAMED, and I think this reflects real-life teenagers well—and makes her more relatable.

I also read a lot of YA novels, and immerse myself in these worlds—and I'm only a few years older than the protagonist of UNTAMED, so I think that helps in terms of creating believable teenage characters.

I know the land is different from real life, in Untamed, but what areas of the world did you draw on for creating the landscape in Untamed, which is very much its own character...?

Ooh, the landscape! The setting for UNTAMED was really important to me. Because it's essentially a story of survival in an ever-changing world, I wanted the terrain to represent an extra entity of sorts that again makes survival even harder for the Untamed characters, when the land is unpredictable due to it being an amalgamation of several different terrains. 

UNTAMED starts off in a desert where resources are so limited that the only way for the Untamed to survive is to scavenge from their enemies. The desert landscape is always one that has fascinated me as it brings its own problems: the high temperatures, lack of water, damage from the sun, etc. I did a lot of research, as although I wanted the setting to be my own creation, I wanted the lands that I merge together to be as realistic as possible. I researched the climate of the Niger-Nigeria border a lot, and studied the plants and animals too, in order to create my own desert that would slowly transform into other terrains, because as UNTAMED's plot progresses, the landscape too changes to mirror the changes taking place within Seven. Having grown up in the harsh desert, she's then confronted with a new landscape that she's not at all used to... a landscape which also brings its own dangers... 

I had great fun writing the different landscapes of UNTAMED, and for the moorland scenes, I was able to draw on my own experiences, living on the edge of Dartmoor in England. I'm also lucky as I live near a Mediterranean biome and a Tropical Forest biome as well, and so I spent many days visiting these, writing down descriptions of the air, the plants, the climate. The setting really is a 'patchwork' of sorts to reflect the chaos of this dystopian future, and it's made more complicated and unpredictable by the presence of supernatural spirits. 

What's up next for you?

I'm just finishing up pre-sub edits for book two in the Untamed Series, FRAGMENTED, and will be sending that off to my publisher soon. But I've also started a new standalone YA dystopian novel that I'm very excited about.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

UNTAMED was the third novel I wrote, and I completed the first draft (70,000 words) in under a month when I was eighteen. I polished it up, and did a lot of rewriting during the following months, until I had a solid 100,000 word draft. A year later, and I'd received four offers from publishers, and was hugely excited! I signed with Prizm Books in June 2014, and UNTAMED released in May 2015, when I was twenty.

UNTAMED is currently available as in ebook and paperback editions—and the first chapter of book two, FRAGMENTED, can be found at the back of most editions. Find it here:



Learn more:




All photos courtesy and copyright Madeline Dyer


Note: We received a review copy of Untamed from the publisher - thank you!