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Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book I Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 30, 2011

4.0 out of 5 stars 197 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Wildwood Trilogy Series

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Product Description
Prue McKeel’s life is ordinary. At least until her baby brother is abducted by a murder of crows. And then things get really weird.

You see, on every map of Portland, Oregon, there is a big splotch of green on the edge of the city labeled “I.W.” This stands for “Impassable Wilderness.” No one’s ever gone in—or at least returned to tell of it.

And this is where the crows take her brother.

So begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval, a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much bigger as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness.

A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.

Wildwood is a spellbinding tale full of wonder, danger, and magic that juxtaposes the thrill of a secret world and modern city life. Original and fresh yet steeped in classic fantasy, this is a novel that could have only come from the imagination of Colin Meloy, celebrated for his inventive and fantastic storytelling as the lead singer of the Decemberists. With dozens of intricate and beautiful illustrations by award-winning artist Carson Ellis, Wildwood is truly a new classic for the twenty-first century.

A Wildwood Playlist by Colin Meloy & Carson Ellis

"Ramble On" by Led Zeppelin

Colin Meloy: I remember reading an interview with Evan Dando from the Lemonheads right around the time the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, bemoaning the fact that the director hadn’t included a single Zeppelin song in the movie. I tend to agree; I mean, how rad would it’ve been after that dramatic ending in The Return of the King, with all its royal celebrations and slo-mo montages—the screen goes black and those monster riffs of “Immigrant Song” kick in? Mind-blowing. So much incredible music in the 60s and 70s was directly fueled by mid-century fantasy fiction, something that Wildwood owes much to; I feel it would be deeply remiss here not to include a little Zepp.

"Marching Song" by Esben and the Witch
Colin Meloy: That said, when I was deep in my preadolescent reverie of fantasy and sci-fi, my friends and I would meet every weekend at someone’s house to play Dungeons & Dragons. There. Confession made. And as everyone knows, the best Dungeon Masters always partnered up their biggest action scenarios with music. While I think it may have been de rigueur to blast Zeppelin or Hawkwind for some folks, I considered myself to be somewhat of a sophisticate. Joy Division was perfect music for a slow, suspenseful crawl through a gelatinous cube-infested grotto. The Legendary Pink Dots added an extra dimension to a party’s first encounter with some weird, reclusive nemesis in a castle tower. An Enchantress might appear to “Under Ice” by Kate Bush or anything from Siouxsie’s output. When I first heard this song from Brighton, England’s Esben and the Witch (even the name is evocative of those days) I imagined a new generation of over-imaginative ten-year-olds pairing their fantastical ramblings with the drowning rains and empty plains of this song.

"Take It Easy" by Hopeton Lewis
Colin Meloy: Switching gears, here. Rocksteady, a kind of precursor to the reggae explosion of the 70s, was a beautiful, thoughtful, random amalgam of classic R&B and traditional Jamaican rhythms. It’s clearly the kind of music that is birthed out of necessity; a bunch of poor kids in the slums of Kingston figuring out for themselves how to re-create the sounds that they were hearing over crappy radio speakers: Sam Cooke, Ben E. King, and Sam & Dave. And what came out wasn’t quite the same, but beautiful and weird and extraordinary in its own right. All this to say: I think that rocksteady music is the music of true enjoyment, the aural equivalent of a slice of bacon, and a rocksteady party was the kind of party I imagined Prue’s parents would throw to celebrate Mac and Prue’s joyful return. And I’ll bet that Prue’s dad dug deep for some Lewis sides—maybe he even had them on 45.

"Tam Lin" by Fairport Convention
Colin Meloy: My 60s Brit Folk obsession is fairly well documented, but I thought I’d be remiss if I didn’t include an old folk song in this list. This one, in particular, features a forbidding forest and an evil fairy queen and a pair of star-crossed lovers. Clocking in just north of seven minutes, it’s as immersive and complete a narrative as a song can hope to retell.

"Jar of Hearts" by Christina Perri
Carson Ellis: I love Sibylle Baier’s mournful songs and I listened to them a lot when I was working on Wildwood, especially during the rainy months. Portland winters can be dreary and sometimes gloomy music is the best thing for them. This isn’t my very favorite song of hers, but I chose it because, you know, the title.

"I Lost Something in the Hills" by Sibylle Baier
Carson Ellis: The intensity and focused passion of this song makes me think of my darling Jack, along with the references to heaven and hell, a favorite theme of his.

"My Lovely Elizabeth" by S.E. Rogie
Carson Ellis: Wildwood has a lot of illustrations—85 in all—and it was hard work getting them done. Man, I love to draw but at times this project was exhausting. At times it was downright grueling. Fortunately, I have some remedies for this: taking a walk always helps, as does yoga, as does S. E. Rogie.

"Katie Cruel" by Karen Dalton
Carson Ellis: This is a spooky traditional song that dates back to the Revolutionary War. Like Wildwood’s villainess, Alexandra, Katie Cruel roams the forest and the “bogs and mire,” jilted and in exile. This is a good song to listen to while walking in Forest Park, the real woods that were the inspiration for Wildwood’s Impassable Wilderness. Or while walking in any misty, quiet forest where beards of moss hang from the gnarled branches of dead trees and there’s little sign of civilization. You can imagine that around any bend you might find the solitary hut of Katie Cruel, a little curl of smoke drifting up from its chimney and the sound of her high lonesome banjo coming from within. I also love this song’s beautiful, totally unhinged chorus:

Oh that I was where I would be,

Then I would be where I am not,

Here I am where I must be

Go where I would, I cannot.

"Over the Hills and Far Away" by Led Zeppelin
Carson Ellis: I’m a longtime Led Zeppelin fan and this song, in addition to having a fitting title, was another one I loved when I was Prue’s age. I first heard it around the time I read The Hobbit, and I thought its medieval vagabond vibe was awesome. I’m also a sucker for a song that starts with a pretty guitar part and then gets crazy. As an adult I tend to like Zeppelin’s earlier, bluesier stuff better but, as a kid, I loved the Middle Earth-ish stuff and “Over the Hills and Far Away” was my jam.

A Look Inside Wildwood
Click on the images below to open larger versions. (Art copyright © 2011 by Unadoptable Books LLC.)


Meloy has an immediately recognizable verbal style and creates a fully realized fantasy world…. Ellis’s illustrations perfectly capture the original world and contribute to the feel of an instant timeless classic. Further adventures in Wildwood cannot come quickly enough. (School Library Journal (starred review))

WILDWOOD is an irresistible, atmospheric adventure - richly imagined and richly rewarding. (Trenton Lee Stewart, New York Times bestselling author of The Mysterious Benedict Society)

This book is like the wild, strange forest it describes. It is full of suspense and danger and frightening things the world has never seen, and once I stepped inside I never wanted to leave. (Lemony Snicket)

A satisfying blend of fantasy, adventure story, eco-fable and political satire with broad appeal; especially recommended for preteen boys. (Kirkus Reviews)

WILDWOOD is a beautiful object and a beautiful read. One half fairy tale, one half coming of age story, one half unrepentantly gorgeous work of art, this book is overflowing with gifts. (Jonathan Safran Foer)

Dark and whimsical, with a true and uncanny sense of otherworldliness, WILDWOOD is the heir to a great tradition of stories of wild childhood adventure. It snatched me up and carried me off into a world I didn’t want to leave. (Michael Chabon)

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 900L (What's this?)
  • Series: Wildwood Chronicles (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Balzer + Bray (August 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006202468X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062024688
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (197 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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