77 of 81 people found the following review helpful
I had high expectations for Wildwood. I mean, it's Colin Meloy of the Decemberists: he writes erudite, unique songs that stay in your head forever. Wildwood is his first foray into fiction, a children's fantasy that has shades of Philip Pullman and CS Lewis. It's an enjoyable read and a fine adventure, but it's hard not to wish that Meloy had taken more risks with the story, strayed off the path every so often.
Our young heroine is Prue McKeel, a precocious preteen with an interest in botanical illustration and a baby brother who has been abducted by a murder of crows. And not just abducted, but taken into the Impassable Wilderness, a wooded area in Portland that no one goes into -- and no one has ever returned from. Of course that's not stopping Prue. Accompanied by her nerdy schoolmate Curtis, she plunges into a fantastic world where coyotes, birds, and dogs talk, postmen are armed with double-barreled rifles, and a terrible power struggle is taking place. The stakes: Prue's brother and the fate of all Wildwood.
The plot is pretty basic for a 500+ page book, but there are plenty of interesting characters (plus a memorable villain) and events to keep readers flipping the pages. Colin Meloy's writing is confident, intelligent, and accessible both to his middle reader audience as well as adult readers who know him from The Decemberists. So why not 5 stars? I was frustrated that the true extent of Meloy's imagination seemed confined to brief flashes -- the fate of the Governess's son, a handful of short but quirky character descriptions. And even in a genre known for its pathetic adults, Prue's parents take the cake for being whiny, ineffectual, and dense. Their bad choices are necessary to the plot, but seriously strain credulity.
In plot and tone, Wildwood feels a bit like a loving tribute to classic fantasy adventures by CS Lewis, Lewis Carroll and Lloyd Alexander. Although it contains a few references to Prue's modern day life (yoga, rice milk, computers), it has a distinctively vintage feel. Carson Ellis's many charming illustrations and silhouettes add to the effect.
I don't really think Wildwood is an instant classic, but it's a fast-paced and enjoyable fantasy adventure with a resourceful heroine. I'd come back for seconds.
80 of 88 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2011
Like many others, I was excited by the possibilities of this book. It has an interesting world--a forest on the outskirts of a major city, a forest that people simply do not go into and is a world unto itself. It has a mixture of animal and human characters, much like other well-known, classic children's literature, which provides opportunities for such fantastic wonders. It has more than enough pages to develop and flesh out the world and its characters to make us feel as we ourselves are a part of it. And, unfortunately, like many others, I was sorely disappointed.
As others have stated, despite its massive 540 page length, the reader never really feels connected to any one character. The protagonist, Prue, was a shell of a character, which makes it difficult to rally behind her for the duration. The second central character, Curtis, had promise but the storyline for him was tiresome. At first, it was very much like the Edmund subplot in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." However, as others have also pointed out, the comparisons between those two books stop there. "Wildwood" separates into two main story lines, both of which became dull and left me hoping maybe the other would get better when it came around again. Other characters introduced through the novel are equally dull and empty. There really wasn't a single character I found myself cheering for or even looking forward to hearing about again. This inability to get behind a character is easily the book's largest flaw, and perhaps the book could have outlived the flaw if it were only 150 pages or so, but certainly not for 500+. Perhaps because the characters themselves really had no emotions toward one another, the reader follows suit.
The second flaw was its storyline. Again, there really doesn't seem to be enough here to justify the length. During several parts, it seemed as if things would never move forward. Worse, once the mystique of the book is uncovered--why Prue and Curtis can enter the forest at all, and why Prue's brother was taken, the book falters even more. The book does nothing with the reasoning that the characters can enter the forest. It merely explains why they--and actually, really only why Prue--could. Once readers learn why baby Mac was taken, it seems to nullify the entire need for the last part of the novel. Prue's quest becomes one of selfishness than of moral necessity. All that's left to cheer for is that the grand evil plot is foiled before it's too late for the forest--but that part of the story is truly of very little concern of Prue's. Her brother is all that really matters. Her parents become absurd characters if they didn't already seem such, and not even in the likeable Roald Dahl way. Nothing really works well here.
The third flaw is its style. The first couple chapters work very hard to give a hip edge to Prue. I'm assuming this comes from Meloy's role in being the frontman of the critically acclaimed band The Decemberists. Maybe he felt that the main character had to be cool in an unconventional, northwestern sense. I found it to be a tremendous distraction. Luckily, all hipsterness eventually fades away, but the more problematic issue remains throughout the entire text. It's diction is far too sophisticated for its supposed target audience. It seemed self-congratulatory in its vocabulary-for-vocabulary's-sake style. There wasn't need for the sophistication. This would be extremely difficult for younger readers to stay engaged, as the diction would prove far too difficult a hurdle, or at least too big a distraction. Maybe, if like Poe's works, the storylines are intriguing enough to pull readers through difficult vocabulary, this wouldn't be an issue, but the storyline doesn't pull the reader through at all.
Others have complained of the story's graphic nature. I would disagree with this. I found no such instances of graphic depictions of violence. Violence certainly happens, as it does in all of our most beloved stories, especially children's stories. I think that we just often forget how violent most children stories really always have been. This is no worse. I also read complaints about strong anti-religious messages. If they exist in here, I never found them. I'll admit that Meloy doesn't appear to embrace a life of faith based on his characters and the events, but I would have a really difficult time trying to argue that he attacks religion. Pullman's novel "The Golden Compass" makes clear attacks, but Meloy's doesn't. It's benign, both in its religious and in its political themes. Those who argue with these points are likely walking the far extremes of the religous and political continuums. The vast majority of readers should find no reason to fear the book's messages.
In all, the book falls markedly short of its goals, whether those goals be the author's, the P.R. team's, or the reader's. I wanted so much to like this book, but I found so much of it so hard to like. It's not a terrible book; it just isn't a good one in almost any sense. As for the modern classic some are heralding this to be...not even close. This one will be forgotten quickly and fall into relative obscurity. That's not a wish on my part, just a prediction.
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Wildwood definitely reads in the classic fantasy adventure style. While I enjoyed the book, I felt that a book of over 500 pages could have had a little more depth. I find the hype surrounding the book to be a bit more interesting than the book itself.
Wildwood's author is also a songwriter for a folk group called the Decemberists. Decemberists fans seem to be in raptures over this book. I'm not familiar with the group, so I have no prior bias.
There are a lot of reviews that compare Wildwood to the Chronicles of Narnia. I can definitely see that in the woodsy setting with talking animals and the outdated technology of the Wildwood. I liked these elements. They gave the book a sort of "timeless" feel. The Governess, the book's villain, is reminiscent of the White Witch in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. The problem is, she doesn't seem as strong a character, in spite of having a very intriguing backstory. Perhaps that's because she doesn't have as formidable an adversary as the White Witch had in Aslan.
There are a number of different factions in the Wildwood, and although they eventually unite against the Governess, there doesn't seem to be a real force for good among them. I understand that The Chronicles of Narnia had a strong Christian message and that's not something every author will agree with or want to tackle even if they do. But I got the feeling that this book was missing something that would pull everything together the way the message did for the Narnia books.
As other reviewers have noted, there is a lot of violence in this book. Fortunately, the description of violent acts is very matter-of-fact, without details of the gore. There is also a potentially offensive scene in which the Governess purposely serves a quantity of wine to one of the children in hopes that he will tell his secrets while under the influence. Parents may want to read the book or at least skim through the battle scenes towards the end before deciding whether it is suitable for their child.
To sum up, I found Wildwood a pleasant read but I wouldn't declare it a classic just yet. If a sequel were to be published (and that's definitely a possibility as there were a few questions left unanswered) I would probably give it a try. There was a lot of promise in this book, but I feel like I'm still waiting for the payoff.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
I was all prepared just to love this novel. It has all the elements of classic folkloric fantasy. It tells the story of Curtis and Prue as they travel to the Impassable Wilderness to retrieve Prue's little brother after he was abducted by a flock of crows. Just the very idea made me tingle with anticipation! A crow abduction! What a way to start a quest.
Unfortunately, the story never really achieved much in the level of suspense. It's told in a rather deadpan manner eerily reminiscent of Lemony Snicket. I had a hard time maintaining interest in the story, even amongst all of the talking animals and sometimes brutal battles. I never formed much of an attachment to Prue, and felt that even through 541 pages I still knew very little about her. Curtis however, was far more interesting, and I found myself looking forward to his part of the story instead of Prue's portion.
The writing itself was wonderful. This will be a vocabulary stretch for a lot of young readers, and I'm just not sure if most young teens and tweens will have the patience to slog through a story that just doesn't offer up enough emotion and action to sustain it's length. The world of Wildwood is very well imagined, but this story just never captivated me. The art is fantastic and adds a welcome dimension to the tale and helps lift it to a three star rating. While the content includes some marked violence, it should be fine for readers as young as ten who enjoy a challenging read. Still, it remains only a marginal recommend.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Why wouldn't I pant after this new middle grade fantasy? The synopsis had echoes of Labyrinth, illustrated by the same artist of The Mysterious Benedict Society, and written by The Decembrists' Colin Meloy. Plus, the Impassable Wilderness. Just the idea of it conjures images of exciting adventures.
Wildwood by Colin Meloy (the first of a trilogy) can best be summed up as a love letter to Oregon with strong overtones of Narnia and some classic fairy tale tropes. I've only been to Portland once, having driven for 13 hours straight from California. The ride is a beautiful one, as the highway is at all times surrounded by lush, green forests. If there was indeed a magical Impassable Wilderness bordering Portland, I would not be surprised at all. I'm not sure if Meloy grew up in the area or has lived there long enough to develop a love for it, but either way, woven throughout Wildwood is a series of subtle homages to the Northwest, indicating a deep fondness and intimate knowledge of its natural wonders.
"As long as Prue could remember, every map she had ever sen of Portland and the surrounding countryside had been blotted with a large, dark green patch in the center, stretching like a growth of moss from the northwest corner to the southwest, and alabeled with the mysterious initials 'I.W.' She hadn't thought to ask about it until one night, before Mac was born... Her dad had brought home a new atlas and they were lying in the recliner together, leafing through the pages and tracing their fingers over boundary lines and sounding out the exotic place-names of far-flung countries. When they arrived at a map of Oregon, Prue pointed to the small, inset map of Portland on the page and asked the question that had always confounded her: 'What's I.W.?'
"'Nothing honey,' had been her father's reply...'There are places in the world where people just don't end up living. Maybe it's too cold or there are too many trees or the mountains are too steep to climb. But whatever the reason, no one has thought to build a road there and without roads, there are no houses and without houses, no cities...It stands for "Impassable Wilderness." And that's just what it is.'"
Wildwood has many imaginative touches - human-like animals who can speak, a majestic Owl King who leads the Avian inhabitants of the wilderness, the wise Mystics, a deadly Ivy that once awakened hungers for the blood of an Outsider.
Prue, as the brave and clever heroine, is the kind of girl I would love to have been best friends with when I was a kid. She has admirable pluck that would make you want to follow her into the wilderness and back.
Curtis, her friend who insists on helping Prue find her baby brother, begins the story as a loyal sidekick but almost takes over the story with heroic adventures of his own.
Like most villains, the Dowager Governess is probably the most fascinating creature in Wildwood. She is depicted in such a way that at times she commanded my reluctant admiration and sympathy. Brendan, the King of the Bandits, is Peter Pan all grown up - wild and lawless but a good guy.
Despite these elements, there's something missing from Wildwood. It was hard to put my finger on it, as separately, all the fantastical details of Wildwood's world, the plot, and the characters seem to indicate the makings of a new children's classic. Something I might have read over and over again as a kid and even dreamt about, as I have with some of my favorite fantasy books. Yet these details together lack that elusive quality which would make Wildwood something I can envision as a beloved childhood book. I think it has to do with resonance.
And unlike Narnia, Wildwood is not a place I feel like visiting again. I pondered this fact; was it because I'm reading it through an adult's eyes? I'd have to say no, because I've read other middle grade fantasy books within the past year, in fact, featuring magical lands even scarier than Wildwood, which left me intrigued rather than indifferent. A book that comes to mind is Tyger, Tyger by Kersten Hamilton, with a similar plot line of a young woman braving the land of the goblins to find her father. That world resonated with me; Wildwood did not. It might have to do with the fact that Wildwood's inhabitants and most of its rules don't appear to be that different from the Outside. It aappears that Wildwood might be a political satire on some level.
There are some dark twists to the story, which is not immune to the deaths of "good" characters. One scene in particular, which involves Prue and her brother's parents, frankly left me shocked and skeptical. It preys upon children's secret fears of abandonment, which is happens in many stories, but the way the supposedly loving parents reacted was was jarringly out of character. At first I thought it might have been a scene that Prue imagined and so I thought it was cleverly done; however, it turned to be real within the story. If any parent acted the way they did, no child would ever want to return them. They'd prefer to stay put in the wilderness.
Meloy appears to be commenting on parenthood here, juxtaposing the Dowager Governess' obsessive love for her dead son with Prue's parents' desperation for a child of their own, going to extreme lengths to have one. The former is imbued with tragedy and lends the villainess some complexity and sympathy, while the latter is out of whack. I've complained before about absent parents in kids books and YA but this seems just as unbelievable - even in a fantasy novel.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
This is the ideal book for your smarter-than-average teen reader -- not only is the story fascinating, funny and whimsical, but there's a healthy dose of "big" words that makes it seem less babyish than other books for this age group. I remember HATING books that talked down to me, and Wildwood does not do that in the least! In addition, it makes it a great book for older readers, too -- Wildwood successfully strikes a balance between both age groups.
(Carson Ellis' illustrations are delightful and perfect for the story, too).
I also enjoy the fact that Prue is a strong female character -- she may be young, but like Katniss in The Hunger Games series, she is serious, thoughtful and capable of taking independent action / making hard decisions even when she is vulnerable and sometimes unsure what to do. Really, though, how often does one's baby brother get kidnapped by crows and carried off into an otherworldly wilderness? It's not like you can expect her to have a model for her behavior! This is where the book gets interesting...seeing what Prue does in impossible situations, how her unwanted partner-in-crownapping-solving Curtis ends up managing his dilemmas differently, and all along the way relishing Meloy's careful descriptions of a dreamy otherworld. I really enjoyed this book!
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2012
After her baby brother is kidnapped by crows, young heroine Prue decides to pursue the birds into a legendary, dangerous forest. After a few mild adventures, Prue reaches a guarded border and is told she is entering the Kingdom of Birds. Crows are birds. We know this and Prue knows this, so a reader might expect Prue to ask the guards about the crows and the kidnapped baby. One might even expect her to be persistent, agitated and demanding. Instead, Prue says nothing. She continues to travel through the Kingdom with no apparent interest in the connection between birds, crows and babies. The explanation for this bizarre behavior is quite simple: though Prue doesn't find out until hundreds of pages later -- the WRITER already knows that the birds in question have left the kingdom.
That right there is the main problem with this book. The heavy hand of the writer is everywhere evident. None of the characters react to situations in ways that real people might. Instead, they react in ways that bring the plot wherever the writer wants it to go next. Worse, all too frequently the writer wants the plot to go off on politically correct tangents. It's hard to care about Prue and her quest when the writer makes her seem more interested in vegetarianism, non-violent resistance and yoga.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Disbelief Cannot Be Suspended Enough Save Wildwood
Fantasy comparison stories, where our world touches their world, has been done and done well, but Colin Meloy fails to keep the logic sound in his cumbersome 541 page novel aimed at "mid-grade" children, Wildwood. The book follows the adventures of Prue McKeel, a 12 year old who - for some unexplained reason - seems to be the primary care giver for her baby brother. One day when she is playing with him at a park, a flock of crows swoops down and carries the baby off and over the river and ravine that separates Portland Oregon from the "Impassable Wilderness". Of course only Prue is witness to this action, and decides to deceive her parents about the baby's abduction and set off in the morning to retrieve her stolen kin. On the way she is followed by classmate Curtis, whom she doesn't like, and together they cross a train bridge, narrowly avoiding a train, and travel in the "Impassable Wilderness", and there discover that animals talk, walk upright, wear clothes, and are divided into four nations, sort of; The rural north, the industrial south, the aviary middle and the untouched Wildwood. Coyote soldiers wielding swords and muskets snare up Curtis, Prue escapes in a mail truck to the south, but not before meeting talking birds, and the politics of the region become the mainstay of the tale. Will Prue rescue her brother? By page 364, I didn't really care.
I am a fan of fantasy settings of the fantastic, and particularly enjoy tales of aligned worlds to our own. There are always plot devices, usually magic, that allow for the fantastic to be despite the physics that say they cannot, but suspension of disbelief and acceptance of an alternate world require an internal logic where the image fits the description. This is where Wildwood falls on its face. Meloy should have immersed himself in some of the masters of this kind of writing, Neil Gaiman's Stardust or American Gods, or Bill Willingam's Peter and Max, to get a sense of how the fantasy realm has to have a logical technology, and a coherent physical world, especially when "there" is shared with "here". The stretch of a tale in a fantastical setting is like dough. You can stretch it a bit, roll it out flat to force a new shape a few times, but if you keep preening, pressing and pulling, pretty soon the whole base for your recipe is inedible and full of tears and holes.
In Wildwood we are asked to accept some things we are used to accepting in fairy tales and myths. Talking animals, a space in our own world untouched by us, spells that keep intruders out, and societies based on multi-species politics that are meant to serve as carnival mirrors of our own. But Wildwood stretches thin within this logic quickly and keeps pulling at it until it becomes something less than a lark or tale tall, something forgettable. Take the coyotes who serve such a major role in the realm. They can talk, okay - allow that. They can shoot and reload muskets and dress and use swords, and walk upright. Well, that's a little odd, unless they are something manlike in their animalness, opposable thumbs and the like being a requirement to wield a sword correctly. Then the animals defy their natural forms, placing arms about each other, climbing and moving ladders, and soon you feel like this is not our physical world - it is a Claymation cartoon like world. It cannot be in this world. The physics get worse at the book progresses, 12 year old child flying on the back of an eagle. Yeah - not going to happen. In a completely fantastical setting, this can be acceptable, but Wildwood plays heavily on the notion that "their" world IS "our" world, and the contradictions between the two becomes a distraction the takes you out of the narrative.
The story has no sense of time in history. One group seems to have stopped technological progression in the revolutionary period, muskets and cannons abound. Their opponents fight with bow and arrow, swords, and a Howetzer. The Howetzer described would be late 19th early 20th century. If they have that, why not machine guns, long range rifles, or at least a Gatling gun. Other societies seem to fight with knifes and pole arms, and other drives automobiles on paved roads. The overall effect is to read a passage and stop thinking about the story or the characters and instead think - where did that come from? - who made that? - if they are cut off from our world, who can build a combustion engine, but can't build a weapon better than a musket? Why don't they have airplanes? It jars you out of the story.
The human characters in the "Impassible Wilderness" all know an Outsider on sight, and seem really out of place, even the baddest of the baddies, the Dowager Governess, seems out of place. This tale may have been better served if all the residents of this land were not human. The language of the characters seems something of an old movie, the coyotes all come off Cockney, the bandits Irish, the south people Brits, and the north a weird version of Mayberry RFD. The weakness of the lack of realism in the fantasy begins to wear too thin in chapter 18, 315 pages in, when Prue's parents are brought back to a story, behaving in a manner so out of believability for even the worst of parents who actually feed and clothe their children, as to make the whole story grind down to a head shaker. It becomes harder and harder to care about the fate of these children and their odd and disjointed quest.
Despite the overall weakness of the tale, there are moments of brilliance in the book, descriptive text and internal emotion well described with perfect synchronicity with the souls they represent. Meloy shows a true strength in describing natural settings and in voicing internal fears and joys. However, spoken dialogue, where each regional character could simply swap lines without much affect to the character at all, and a distorted plot and illogical internal mechanics keeps these pearls very far apart on the string. The book's end seems out of pace with its beginning. Worse, it ends with that distinct feeling of "sequel". I doubt many children would make it through the first trip to Wildwood. It would be best to avoid starting another.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2012
(Written by Jill Smith, not Dean): I just came from a book group that read and discussed "Wildwood" and out of seven people, all of us were disappointed. I had very high hopes. The first chapter was great. I love juvenile fiction (and The Decemberists). But in the end, only half of our group even finished the book. The others lost interest/gave up halfway through. We felt none of Wildwood's characters were well-developed, the writing was not that good (redundant, cliches, etc.) and there were some plot threads that were simply unbelievable--and not in the fantasy way. I'm a big Narnia, Harry Potter, Hobbit fan, but the characters and plots in those books were believable and consistent. We all thought Wildwood should have been half the length. We liked some of the imaginative ideas (like the ivy) but wished he had focused on certain characters more, like Owl Rex. He kind of flitted from new character to new character without developing any that well. If he were not the frontman for The Decemberists I'm guessing this book would never have been published. I heard he's writing some sequels. I HOPE he listens to his editors this time. I will not be reading the second one. It's possible an actual 12-year-old might like the book more than I and the grownups in my reading group did, but I don't think it would be a favorite book, even for a 12-year-old.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A word of warning to parents: "Wildwood" isn't for sensitive children. It is very reminiscent of the original unsanitized versions of fairytales, the ones that had Cinderella's stepsisters chopping off their feet in order to fit in the glass slipper and such. The villain's plans for the Prue's kidnapped baby brother probably would've given me nightmares as a 'tween. On the other hand, my almost 9 y.o. was not bothered by the plot, so it really depends on how easily frightened the individual child is by creepy elements in stories.
"Wildwood" hooks the reader from the first paragraph and doesn't let up through 500-odd pages. Some of the plot elements did strike me as a bit derivative (one in particular seemed lifted straight from the pages of Tolkien's "The Hobbit") but child readers probably aren't going to pick up on that unless they're unusually well-read. The author did a great job with the comic relief- I loved Prue's interactions with the bumbling bureaucrats of South Wood and Curtis' interactions with the coyote soldiers and later the Wildwood bandits. The illustrations were whimsical and I regret that my review copy did not include more of them.
One final point- another Amazon reviewer felt that the book is anti-Catholic. I am a fairly conservative Catholic and have criticized other books and media in the past for having an anti-Catholic bias. That thought honestly never crossed my mind when I read "Wildwood". I don't know if the other reviewer is reading too much into the book or what, but nothing in it raised any red flags for me personally.