Tuesday 6 March 2012

Children's Book Review : Wildwood - Colin Meloy

Before I even turned to the first page of Colin Meloy's debut novel, Wildwood, I spent a couple of minutes looking at the very handsome cover. The illustrations feature elements of nature and weird and wonderful creatures and beings with olde-worlde clothing and weapons. I was pleased to see that these illustrations are featured throughout the whole book as they really add to the magical, mystical atmosphere of the story and help bring it to life.

Before I tell you about the book, let me just tell you about the man behind it though. Colin Meloy is actually firstly and foremostly a singer and songwriter, fronting the indie folk-rock group called The Decemberists. Carson Ellis, the award-winning illustrator who provides the artwork, is also none other than his partner and the mother of his child. I'm sure this explains how the writing and the illustrations work so well in tandem, each enhancing the other - although I was slightly peeved that the three beautiful full-colour illustrated plates are inserted in such a way that they act as spoilers.

So, what's it all about ? Well, you immediately have to be prepared to accept the otherwordliness of Wildwood and suspend your disbelief so no picking holes in the plot, ok ?! Prue McKeel, typical carefree pre-teen, is riding around the park pulling her baby brother along in a trailer behind her bike when a group of crows (or a murder of crows, as we learn they should - rather aptly here - be called) arrive out of nowhere and kidnap him. Headstrong Prue, feeling distraught and decidedly guilty, decides to do whatever it takes to try to rescue him, even when this means heading into The Impassable Wilderness, that mysterious place that grown-ups don't like to talk about.

So begins an exciting, dangerous, epic adventure which sees Prue meeting up with class loner Curtis who becomes her unlikely ally. They are soon separated and the story continues with two threads - one following Prue and  the other following Curtis - until their destinies again become entwined as they try to rescue Prue's baby brother. The fearless pair have to cross the whole of Wildwood, which is split into several separate and wholly different countries, each with its own lifestyle and inhabitants, ranging from human forest-dwelling bandits to uniform-wearing coyote militiamen and peace-loving mystics. But there is also a darker side, with political unrest and a power crazy, unhinged Dowager Governess threatening the survival of the whole of Wildwood, with Prue's baby brother unwittingly becoming an invaluable pawn in the game.

I loved discovering the fairytale world of Wildwood and the different populations that Prue and Curtis encounter. The story is exciting, if a bit predictable, and I like the way Colin Meloy doesn't dumb down his vocabulary, despite writing for a young public. There is a strong ecological moral to the story and the part in the Avian Principality where the birds are rounded up and carted off to prison, with a would-be escapee crane being savagely shot to the ground and kicked into the gutter, brought to mind the Nazi raids of World War Two, although I am sure this would go straight over the heads of any younger readers.

As a parent, I couldn't help but wonder how on earth Prue's parents could ever leave her with the sole responsibility of her infant brother at her young age, and even more so, not even notice when she takes a bundled up blanket to put in the cot instead of him. I didn't have a problem taking on board the talking animals and fantastical world of Wildwood but this part did ring untrue ! I also felt that the novel was overly lengthy, especially given the target audience, who - in my opinion - may be put off by a novel of almost 550 pages, so it could have been slightly condensed. I've just learnt that this is the first book in a series, which explains why Curtis's story doesn't really seem to have an end, which is another element that perturbed me.

Overall, it's an enjoyable read, with a fairytalesque world hiding a darker side and a complicated political situation which will make a challenging read for keen young readers. If you want to get a feel for the wonders of Wildwood, have a look at the brilliant trailer below :

star rating : 3.5/5

RRP : £10

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd (1 Mar 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 085786324X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857863249
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 15.6 x 5 cm

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  1. What a lovely review, those illustrations are amazing aren't they? I'm such a sucker for illustrations in a book, if I love them I often forget to check if the story is any good! x

  2. Lucinda Barton6 March 2012 at 08:52

    Love the illustrations and reveiew. Will have to keep an eye out for this.

  3. I have to say I have not read but reading your review I would also wonder why a child would be left looking after her kid brother but I think often as adults we over think things. In years gone by or even now in other countries it is not unusual for children to look after their syblings from an early age.

    I have to say I agreed with the length of the book and to add to it I would be put off by the price tag of £10 xx

  4. What a great book this looks my 2 would love this and the pics are great will def be getting this :) xx


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