When Prue’s brother Mac is lifted out of the park and kidnapped by a murder of crows there is no other option: she must rescue him. But what begins as a simple search and rescue into the infamous Impassable Wilderness of Portland, Maine soon becomes a fight to survive. When Prue and her friend Curtis become separated in the Wilderness, they find themselves caught up in an epic power struggle as the exiled Dowager Governess, the previous monarch of Wildwood, raises an army that will sweep through all of the Wood, destroying everything in its path. With their lives at risk, Prue and Curtis have to rely on all their wit and cunning in order to help save Wildwood and rescue Mac, along with many others.
To give you a general idea of Wildwood, it reminded me of a combination of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making along with The Chronicles of Narnia, though with plenty of its own original flair. The comparison to Narnia was mostly the talking animals that can be found throughout the forest. Not exactly a Narnia exclusive characteristic, though the Dowager Governess also reminded me of the White Witch from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Her personality as well as her tactics of villainy shared much in common, though she also had enough differences to make her an original character. She was driven by revenge where as the White Witch was driven by lust for power, and she seemed to have more outward respect toward her minions (though not inwardly).
I was impressed with Colin Meloy’s setup of the different entities within Wildwood. There wasn’t any obvious separation between good and evil. One example of this was Brendan the Bandit King. Him and his band of thieves were reminiscent of Robin Hood from Medieval folklore, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. But even they were more complex than your average righteous thieves. Granted there wasn’t a whole lot of complexity, it is a children’s book after all, but it begged the reader to ask questions about morality, death, and loyalty.
Though it is fantasy and not to be found in any list of “appropriate educational literature” it would be a fantastic book for middle school and eager elementary students to read, if only as a tool for vocabulary. My wife and I were reading this book together as we drove across the country and we stopped regularly through paragraphs either for assistance in pronouncing a word or in order to define a term. Rarely am I impressed with the vocabulary choices of a children’s novel, but Meloy emboldens his book with a spectacular choice of words.
I realize that, as of late, I have not been including any constructive criticism to any of the reviews that I have publishing. Partly this is because I sometimes end up posting about a book a week or two after I finished reading it and so it is no longer fresh in my mind. It is also due to the fact that I haven’t been looking as hard, which is an error on my part. Not that one should always look for error, but there are always things that can be improved, and as an aspiring author it is a good habit for me to indulge in to improve how I write myself.
The only thing that I can think of which I thought might be improved is the pace. There were some sections of the story, mostly in the beginning and middle, that felt well paced, but as the story gained speed and the climax was approaching the events seemed to speed up. The characters would jump from one place to the next in a fashion that felt like the story was on fast-forward. This happens a lot and it is usually because there is still a lot of information that needs to be plugged into the story but not enough space to do it. The result was that the events felt a little disconnected in some places.
I wasn’t sure how I would like this book. I’ve been wary of children’s and young adult literature for a while because they were running into repetitive ruts, but Wildwood is both new and engaging. The story itself is evidence that there are still those out there who can take original ideas and turn them into something people want to read. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.