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Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book I

Review

Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book I

written by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis

I've been a huge fan of the Portland, Oregon-based band The Decemberists for years. Lead singer and songwriter Colin Meloy has a reputation for lyrics that are sophisticated and playful, modern sensibilities steeped in tradition and folklore.

I've also been a huge fan of the illustrator Carlson Ellis for many years. Her whimsical, detailed, sometimes slightly wistful line drawings contribute to such favorites as THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY and THE COMPOSER IS DEAD. Not coincidentally, her artwork also adorns the covers of several Decemberists albums. You see, Colin Meloy is her husband.

Now, the two (who recently became parents) have teamed up on Meloy's first children's book, a fantasy novel for middle-grade readers that combines Meloy's affection for fantasy with Ellis's charming eye for detail. The result is WILDWOOD, the first book in a projected trilogy set in a mythical forest on the outskirts of Portland.

Like any good fantasy novel, WILDWOOD opens with a map of the area. To those familiar with Portland, some elements --- the Willamette River, for example --- will seem familiar. But what are those buildings belching smoke in the Industrial Wastes? And what about that vast, terrifying expanse of forest marked only as the Impassable Wilderness?

For years, seventh-grader Prue McKeel had never heard a credible story of anyone who went into the Impassable Wilderness and lived to tell the tale. But when her baby brother Mac is swept up by a murder of crows and carried off into the imposing woods, Prue knows she has no choice but to follow. She is, somewhat to her dismay, followed into the woods by her classmate Curtis, a boy who longs only to be her friend but who seems, at first glance, more like deadweight than a worthy teammate. Almost immediately after the two kids stumble upon a battalion of coyotes in military garb, they are separated. Curtis is taken under the wing of the beautiful but troubled Dowager Governess and enlisted to serve in her army. Meanwhile, Prue finds herself caught up in a border dispute involving the Avian Principality and its bird residents.

As you might have gathered by now, the Impassable Wilderness is not really so impassable after all; it's populated by a variety of creatures and characterized by a number of political and bureaucratic intrigues. As the first Outsiders of Wildwood (as the land is known to those on the inside), Prue and Curtis are the objects of more than a little curiosity, sometimes unwanted attention, and even a little danger. Will they be able to navigate this unfamiliar terrain to find each other --- and Prue's brother --- again?

WILDWOOD is the first volume in a projected trilogy, one that will appeal to fans of traditional fantasy who like their heroes plucky and practical and their adventure grounded in realistic details. It blends the forest of myth with the city of the present in a novel that showcases Meloy's creativity, imagination and linguistic inventiveness. Meanwhile, Ellis's numerous illustrations (six of which are in full color) depict birds, landscapes, wildlife, and somewhat serious human characters. Meloy and Ellis make a great team --- and WILDWOOD will introduce a whole new generation of fans to their varied talents.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on August 30, 2011

Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book I
written by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis

  • Publication Date: August 30, 2011
  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Balzer + Bray
  • ISBN-10: 006202468X
  • ISBN-13: 9780062024688