Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Samantha’s #CBR4 Review #2: Wildwood, by Colin Meloy

If you are familiar with the band The Decemberists, you are probably aware that they are a folk-tinged indie band, known for detailed story-telling, lyrics that you might need to look up in a dictionary, and themes that are sometimes creepy, macabre, and well, down-right effed up. Now, armed with that knowledge, if I told you that lead singer (and chief songwriter) Colin Meloy had written a YA fantasy novel, you would doubtless come up with some reasonable assumptions; namely that this book would probably be some combination of creepy, macabre, or screwed up, with lots of big words. It turns out, however, that those reasonable assumptions would actually be fairly wrong. I know, right? Go figure.

Prue McKeel is just your average Portland pre-teen: she rides a bike a lot, frequents coffee shops, does yoga, and looks after her baby brother, Mac. Her life ceases to be normal when, during an outing in the park, Mac is abducted by a murder of crows. Yes, the birds. They scoop him and fly away with him, disappearing into the “Impassible Wilderness,” which, as far as anyone in Portland knows, is exactly what it sounds like. When Prue and her classmate Curtis venture into the Wilderness in search of Mac, however, what they find is a another world, one peopled with talking animals, Bandit Kings, and a whole lot of political intrigue. Naturally, our heroes get wrapped up in the goings-on in Wildwood (which is what the residents call it) and find that there is not only more to the Impassible Wilderness than they thought, but that there is also more to them, as well.

This is your standard “normal kid ends up in fantasy-land” kind of book. It has only a few brief instances of anything creepy or macabre, and the vocabulary was, to my way of thinking, nothing terribly strenuous, even for the target audience. The story is pretty slow to get started (Meloy likes to use a lot of words, even if they’re not big, fancy ones) but about halfway through it definitely picks up. The characters are pretty usual; Prue’s plucky and determined, Curtis is the type that stumbles into being a hero, and the various individuals they meet in Wildwood fall along a typical spectrum.  There’s not a great deal of character development, but apparently this is the first in a trilogy (of course; aren’t they all?) so there will be time for that later, perhaps.  I think what I appreciated most about Wildwood, actually, is that it sets up its world very well. It’s a story unto itself, and the story resolves at the end, but there are plenty of unanswered questions and potential for later material. I sort of feel as though you can tell this is a first novel in that it’s a bit clumsy at times, but it certainly has promise. If nothing else, I’m interested to see if Meloy puts enough songs (there are one or two in Wildwood) into the subsequent books to get a full album out of them. Ultimately, I’m as yet undecided on whether or not I will pick up the next book, mainly just because I don’t like committing to series, but I think Meloy has promise.  If he can improve upon his story and his characters, and maybe use a few less words, he might be on to something.

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