I don’t read fiction much, at least not anymore. Oh, I read plenty of it when I was younger; I was one of those kids who would routinely check out 30+ books from the library at a time. And I would certainly like to read more of it these days. But I have been burned far too many times by authors, so now every book that doesn’t have a Dewey Decimal associated with it—and probably some that do—I regard with suspicion, guilty until proven innocent. Every now and then, however, I find something that is at least worth trying, which was the case with Wildwood, recommended to me by a friend. (Back in February, no less, and I didn’t finish it until today. I’m not a slow reader; it only took me three sittings to read, and I could have finished it in one if I’d been a bit more invested in the story and not had things to interrupt it. Just be glad I didn’t procrastinate on this review as much as I did on reading the book.) And I guess there might be some minor unmarked spoilers here, but I tried to at least mark the major ones.
So…Wildwood. It’s a book primarily about a girl. While she is at the park with her baby brother, he gets kidnapped by crows (it makes sense in context) and taken deep into a nearby forest known by the locals as The Impassable Forest. She goes into there to rescue him, one of her classmates follows her, and they get split up, only to find that the forest is populated not only by humans but also talking animals, who live together in relative harmony. From there, they meet a villain who pretends to be friendly, wacky hijinks ensue (at least, if by “wacky hijinks” you mean “a bunch of battles where many unnamed characters die”), they rescue the girl’s brother from being used for a gruesome, destructive ritual by the resident antagonist, and everything turns out more or less fine from there. I’ll spare you the details in this case.
Now that you know the basic plot, we’ll discuss my thoughts. First of all, who names their kid “Prue”? Is that even a real first name? I guess it could be short for “Prudence”, but that’s not a lot better. Beyond that, the forest formerly known as the Impassable Wood is a pretty decent fantasy world, I guess, even if not much in the way of actual magic ever showed up in the book. Actually, for all that the author (Colin Meloy) tried to establish this different world, I feel like he didn’t really spend as much time on the worldbuilding as he could have. Conversely, he spent too much time on the numerous battles between factions, if you ask me. I feel like after the first few chapters, there weren’t enough breaks between scenes where no one had to fight anyone, escape from confinement, or sneak around but could just kind of relax and take it all in. And on that note, assuming that the characters’ ages are supposed to correspond roughly to the reader’s, this book seems awfully violent for something aimed at the pre-teen crowd. They never really go into the implications of having hundreds of nameless soldiers die, beyond explicitly mentioning that at least some of them had families. It sucks to be the spouse or child of any of those coyotes, bandits, farmers, or birds. Meanwhile, I might have liked to know more about what happened during the coup at the end, which barely got three pages’ worth of description to it. I also feel like Prue and Curtis didn’t spend enough time being present simultaneously; they were together at the beginning and the end but separated for most of the book.
Also, I totally called the main bad guy being evil despite her initial amiable countenance. I’ve read too many fantasy novels to trust a character in that situation, the Narnia books in particular (or at least The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). Though I’ll admit she kind of had a point about “keeping her end of the bargain”, even if she did have some Rumpelstiltskin-esque ulterior motives (not to mention being an omnicidal psychopath). And that in turn brings up the question of why Prue’s parents didn’t just adopt a child instead of making that kind of deal with someone that suspicious. Speaking of families, that thing Curtis did at the end of the book was a real jerk move. I can understand leaving the Outside and joining the bandits for good if his life in the mundane world had been miserable, but unless I forgot something, there’s nothing in the book to suggest that it was, meaning that he left his parents and at least one sibling thinking that he’d died for no real reason. What the heck, dude?! For that matter, even if the bandits are the honorable sort, they’re still bandits and they still rob people, and maybe instead of joining them, he should have, I don’t know, convinced them to get actual jobs or something. This all is compounded by the fact that he’s freaking 12. I know I wasn’t mature enough for something like that when I was 12 years old, nor was anyone I knew when they were that age. But then, I could say the same for Prue and going to a park in the city essentially alone to take care of a baby. And whatever happened to the mailman by the end of the book? He pretty much disappeared by the time the story was starting to slope up to the climax. We never found out why Curtis was a half-blood either.
I feel like the ratio of action to adventure to exploration to worldbuilding could have been better. Otherwise, it wasn’t bad.
Both of the protagonists are…a bit on the flat side, to be honest, and I don’t mean the story suggests they have latent anorexic tendencies. Prue wants to find her brother, but about the only other thing we find out about her is that she likes birds and drawing, and her personality doesn’t really stand out from any other young fantasy novel protagonist I could think of. Curtis has even less going for him in that regard. At least neither of them annoyed me.
Mysterious, dangerous forest separated into three parts, where humans live alongside talking animals? Not a bad setting for a fantasy story at all, but I do feel like it’s been done before, and it’s probably been done better (the aforementioned Narnia comes to mind). And this is just me, but I think it would have been improved by adding some mythological creatures such as dragons, griffins, centaurs, etc. Just sayin’.
The author seemed to do a decent job with his descriptions and imagery, and I have no real complaints about any of the dialogue. *shrug*
Positives: Both the world and the writing were decent enough.
Negatives: See my comments about there being too many battle scenes relative to the amount of world building and about Curtis’s role at the end. Also, this story just didn’t seem like it really needed 541 pages to be told. I’m not sure what would be compressed or cut out, but I feel like not that many things actually happened relative to its length.
Final score: 5
Despite some of the problems I had with this book, I guess I enjoyed it overall. It won’t go down in my list of eternal favorites or anything, but it didn’t make me want to punch the author in the face either. I’d say it’s worth reading. (On a few postscript side notes, I noticed the font in this book is the same one used in The Seventh Tower series, though I couldn’t tell you what it’s called. And this is one of those books with pages that are deliberately rough and uneven on the right side, so it was a bit of a challenge to turn the pages on occasion.)