Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review: "Wildwood" by Colin Meloy

"Wildwood" by Colin Meloy
First in a trilogy
First published in 2011
541 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5 (2 for the writing +1 for the wonderful illustrations)

(image source)

I wanted to love this book. I should have loved this book. It features talking woodland creatures, an evil red-haired queen and an adventure to rescue a baby brother kidnapped by crows. But overall, it was a long, hard, desperate slog to finish what became "the book that never ends." I actually skimmed good portions of the book and that never happens.

And this is a middle-grade book -- you know, for kids? If it couldn't even hold the attention of a 28-year-old booklover, how is it expected to compete with video games and Legos in the eyes of a 10-year-old?

I loved the concept of "Wildwood" if not the overall plot, writing style and execution. It opens with 12-year-old Prue's baby brother being snatched by crows and carried off into an area outside Portland known as The Impassable Wilderness. Prue feels she has no choice but to follow her brother into said wilderness, a dense and secret woods populated by humans and animals, where nary an Outsider has gone before.
Soon Prue and her schoolmate Curtis (who followed her into the IW for some reason that was never entirely clear to me) are soon mired in a war full of coyote soldiers, prisons made of tree roots, blood-drinking ivy, mystics, and a crown prince who's an owl -- and they both will play pivotal roles in saving the woods.

I was initially captivated, but I was soon lost amid the long-winded descriptions and unfamiliar words that even I (a former newspaper copy editor) and had to look up. It was so incredibly boring at times. And I never really grew to like Prue or Curtis -- they both kind of got on my nerves, actually. I think the book would be infinitely better if it were pared down to half the size... or (gasp) turned into a movie.

I have no idea what audience "Wildwood" was intended for. I highly doubt most kids would make it through the entire brick-sized book, but seeing as it IS a kids' book how many adults would it appeal to? I suspect the only grown-ups who might read and love it are fans of Meloy's band The Decemberists.

"Wildwood" has a major identity crisis. It's definitely not a typical fast-paced, fun middle-grade fantasy series like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. Instead, it drags horribly in parts (i.e. the entire final 2/3 of the book), and while I suppose it's well-written, the vocabulary is far above the appropriate age level. As for me, the only reason I didn't stop reading halfway through is because a friend at work recommended it and I thought I should give it a fair shot.

I do have a few positive things to say about "Wildwood" and those mostly concern the lovely illustrations by Carson Ellis (the author's wife) scattered throughout, particularly the full-color ones. They really breathed life into the story and helped me visualize this magical land know as the Impassable Wilderness. 

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