Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book 1 written by Colin Meloy with illustrations by Carson Ellis, Balzer and Bray, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-06-202468-8
“How five crows managed to life a twenty-pound baby boy into the air was beyond Prue, but that certainly was the least of her worries.” So begins the story of Wildwood, the first book in a fantasy series written by Colin Meloy, singer and songwriter for the band the Decemberists. After a murder of crows abducts her baby brother, Prue follows them into the “Impassable Wilderness” adjacent to her home town of Portland, Oregon. Once there, she finds an entirely new and different world, protected from humans by a magical barrier. Every creature Prue encounters wonders how an “Outsider” like her penetrated the barrier. Prue isn’t sure herself, or why the crows abducted her brother. The more people she meets, the closer she comes to learning the truth about her connection to Wildwood.
Joining her on her adventure is her friend Curtis, who follows Prue into Wildwood on her mission to rescue her brother. After they are attacked by a group of talking coyote soldiers, the two are separated and learn of the upcoming war between the different regions that make up this new world. Curtis is first captured, then embraced and then imprisoned by Alexandra, the Dowager Governess, who wants to reclaim her title as Queen of all principalities. Prue is befriended by an old Postmaster, Owl Rex – Crown Prince of the Avian Principality, the Bandit King, and the Mystic Iphigenia in her effort to rescue her brother before Alexandra sacrifices him to the ivy in her effort to regain power. If she can’t reach him by the solstice, he and all of Wildwood will be destroyed forever.
Wildwood is a wonderful book that harkens back to the classic C.S. Lewis Narnia series. Similar to the Lewis stories, Meloy has created a magical place populated with humans, talking animals and plants. The world is far from peaceful, however, and Prue quickly finds herself in the center of a power struggle between the Dowager Governess, driven mad by grief over losing her son and the Lars Svik, the corrupt Governor-Regent of South Wood. The two have been battling for control of the territories for some time, with each getting more violent and ruthless to achieve their ends. This is a imaginative world that has enough real world parallels to keep the reader fascinated and engaged.
In the center of the turmoil are two sympathetic characters that must find the courage they didn’t even know they had to survive. Prue and Curtis begin the novel as bookish and lonely, but their experiences force them to brave incredible dangers. After the two are separated, the chapters alternate between telling Prue’s story with Curtis’s. As a result, this becomes a story not just of Prue’s attempt to rescue her brother, but Curtis’s transformation from a comic-loving nerd to a bandit warrior. These coming of age stories feel real and authentic even though they take place in an unbelievable place.
Throughout the book, there are beautiful illustrations by Carson Ellis, which add to the reader’s enjoyment of the story. Similar to the fine line drawings she did for The Mysterious Benedict Society, the images harken back to an earlier time and are as lovely to look at as Meloy’s words are fun to read.
Once you step foot in Wildwood, you’ll never want to leave. Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis have created a richly imaginative world in this novel that is filled with magic and adventure. Follow Prue and Curtis as they enter this wonderful, and often dangerous place, in an attempt to rescue her brother before he is sacrificed by the evil Dowager Governess.
Information about the author
From the author’s page on Amazon.com, we learn that, “Colin Meloy is the charismatic lead singer and songwriter of The Decemberists, a highly celebrated (and uncommonly literary) band that has sold in excess of 1 million records. Colin has been recognized as much for his musical abilities–his ear for inventive and timeless melodies and his lilting vocals–as he has been for his unmatched lyrical prowess. Crafting each song as a vivid, imaginative story unto itself, he’s become one of the most distinctive and appreciated voices of our time. Wildwood marks Colin’s debut as children’s author.”
From the author’s page on the book jacket of Wildwood, we learn that Carson Ellis “is the acclaimed illustrator of several books for children, including Lemony Snicket’s The Composer is Dead, Dillweed’s Revenge by Florence Parry Heide, and The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.
Fantasy, Middle Grade Fiction
How are the parents depicted in the novel?
Read the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin and compare the title character with the Dowager Governess
Reading Level / Interest Age
Grade 9 and up
Why did I include this title?
I’ve been a big fan of Colin Meloy’s band The Decemberists for awhile. His songs always tell imaginative stories so I knew his first novel would be interesting and weird. I wasn’t disappointed. Look for the Wildwood Playlist put together by Meloy and Ellis on the Amazon page for the book. It’s a great collection of songs that match the book’s plot and themes perfectly.