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Mr. Wicker Paperback – September 16, 2014
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From Publishers Weekly
Convincing in its haunting whimsy, Alexander's emotionally complex faerie tale comments on grim reality with chilling metaphors. . . Alexander (By the Pricking) makes the impossible feel probable, anchoring fantasy in everyday struggles. Alicia's spitfire defiance and charming vulnerability, and the eventual romance between her and Dr. Farron, inject warmth into chilling encounters between a world that shouldn't exist and undependable reality. Illness, loss, and heartache color this splendid, bittersweet ode to the ghosts of childhood.
"Suicide, love, lust, lost dreams and twisted purgatories...Maria Alexander's Mr. Wicker is an original, crafted of startling images and darkly poetic language. Eerily effective." --Steven Barnes, author of Lion's Blood
"Elegant chills, genuine awe, and true tragedy are all ingredients in the spell cast by Maria Alexander's Mr. Wicker. Anyone who has encountered Maria's short stories surely expects her first novel to be extraordinary, and she doesn't disappoint. Mr. Wicker is rich, lovely, and deeply unnerving." --Lisa Morton, author of Malediction and Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween
From Library Journal
Starred Review, Debut of the Month
"...the fantastic premise of memories so terrible they need to be excised and hidden away makes this a horror novel to anticipate."
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Top Customer Reviews
Almost forgot—loved the crows!
In the throes of depression and instability horror writer Alicia Baum succumbs to suicide. Rather than offering any release, she finds herself in a timeworn library before a strange man who speaks of lost memories and a desire born from destiny to have her stay beside him, Mr. Wicker, in this mysterious realm beyond life where he can reunite her with all she has lost. Alicia, despite recognizing this sense of incompleteness within herself that has fueled her mental instability, chooses instead to flee from the uncertain strangeness of Mr. Wicker and his abode. Eternal rest ever elusive, Alicia awakens back to the reality of life, placed in a psychiatric ward under the care of doctors who would never accept her odd experiences.
But, Dr. James Farron has heard child patients in his care whisper in their dreams about the uncanny Mr. Wicker, and overhearing Alicia do the same draws him into serving as her advocate and protector, from her own mind and the corruption of hospital staff. In return he hopes to finally discover the secret to the Mr Wicker phenomena and save his patients.
A synopsis of Mr. Wicker‘s plot simply can not do its intricacies and many layers justice, and too much information can spoil the fun. In a way, Alexander has constructed the novel like a puzzle, and some pieces can be found outside of the novel proper on her website to uncover new secrets and connections. This construction fits well conceptually with the intermixing of genres that Mr. Wicker for the most part manages to handle rather well. She handles the balance between horror, fantasy, and romance rather well, particularly for a first novel. The story was originally envisioned as a film script and the fluidity of events amid the intertwined structure of character-history-reveal shows the marks of this.
My only major quibble is with the extended interlude toward the novel’s end that makes up the more ‘historical’ genre aspect of the novel. Revealing Mr. Wicker’s past, this section is actually one of my favorite portions of the novel in terms of the language and development on its own. But within the whole it ends up breaking the flow of everything around it, not fully integrated into the whole. Personally I can see this historical interlude working well on the screen, but within the book it felt almost a disruptive info-dump of revelation that may have felt more natural interwoven as all other elements of the novel are.
Rather than being the clear-cut villain as I expected, Mr. Wicker is in fact far more complex, full of bittersweet tragedy. The significance of his name will be familiar to anyone who’s seen either of the Wicker Man films or knows that aspect of Celtic history. I particularly enjoyed Mr. Wicker’s corvoid companions. While I knew of their place in Norse mythology, I hadn’t realized that the raven had similar counterparts in Celtic.
Alicia’s allure as a character arises from her opposing dualities. She is drawn alternatively between life and death, between the influence of Mr. Wicker and Dr. Farron, fear of her present mind and desire to reclaim past memories. Alicia has moments of strong independence and making clear decisions, but then also times where she foolishly blunders or shows utter dependence on a male character. Mr. Wicker and Dr. Farron are (selfishly in one case, more altruistically in the other) each intent on claiming her, either as a sort of property or as a case for care, respectively. For much of the novel Alicia permits herself to be defined in this way, but she ultimately reaches her own self discovery and road to follow, so I’d encourage any readers at first put off by this to stay with the story.
While extremely likable as a character, Dr. Farron is rather predictable and one dimensional, as are the secondary characters of the novel, particularly another doctor who serves as the moral opposite of Farron. To be fair, the unique development of Alicia and Mr. Wicker could also arise from this story’s origin as screenplay, where development of more than a couple characters is simply not recommended.
Ultimately fans of dark fantasy who enjoy a touch of mystery and romance will find Mr. Wicker worth a look, an intricate Celtic knot that Alexander has woven quite well for a debut. I think a tale destined from the start for the page rather than the screen will even more deeply reveal her magic and talent for storytelling.
Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from Raw Dog Screaming Press in exchange for an honest review that originally appeared at www.Reading1000Lives.com
One of the praise quotes compares the author to an angrier Neil Gaiman, but after reading "Mr. Wicker," I sensed more of a Clive Barker feel to it. One of the aspects that most resonated with me was that Alicia seemed to have "lost it" as in her writing mojo to the point that she felt she wasn't a writer anymore. Another aspect I liked was Alicia's simultaneous revulsion of--and desire for--Mr. Wicker. As the book went on, the story became more intriguing.
Though some of Alicia's behaviour was erratic, violent and unstable, I sympathized with her and the struggles she'd gone through. The tension between Alicia and Dr. Farron also added to the narrative, making things more complex and interesting. What stood out to me most was the attention to characterization from the most major players to the ravens associated with Mr. Wicker, which brought back shades of the "Sandman" graphic novel series from Neil Gaiman.
One of my quibbles was that I didn't enjoy the sections involving the history of Mr. Wicker and the past lives coming full circle to the present day, which, although it was vital to the overall story felt like it dragged for me at times. Still, Mr. Wicker was as much a tragic figure as Alicia, a tormented antagonist with his own nuances and complexities. Although I initially didn't care for the forays into the past, by the end, Alexander did tie up the loose ends and everything made sense as things began to click into place for Alicia.
"Mr. Wicker" doesn't follow the usual trajectory of "bad guy threatens to get in good guy's way, good guy fights bad guy, good guy wins, happily ever after," which made it that much more of an impactful tale. If you're looking for cookie cutter fantasy, look somewhere else. This book is dark urban fantasy that's a breath of fresh air.