It was a pretty normal day until Prue’s toddler brother, Mac, was stolen out of their local Portland park by a murder of crows.
The edge of Portland is surrounded by a forest, called “The Impassible Wilderness” for a reason. No one goes in. And the people who are stupid enough to go in don’t come back. But the Impassible Wilderness is where Prue’s brother is taken, and it’s where Prue goes to fetch him back, accompanied—more or less—by her friend Curtis.
It’s not what they expected. The forest is, in fact, inhabited—it contains three distinct states, called by the inhabitants the North Wood, South Wood, and Wildwood, which is the untamed area Prue and Curtis wander into. Wildwood is on the brink of a revolution with the beautiful Alexandra rousing an army of coyotes to fight it. Of course, as Prue and Curtis notice shortly after entering, not everything is as it seems, and the simple find-and-rescue mission soon wraps them up in the massive, intricate politics of the Wood and the fight to control it.
I don’t read much fantasy. I’m pretty big on dystopias, but I’m not generally likely to pick up a mammoth four-hundred-page middle-grade fantasy novel. But I’m so glad I did. Wildwood took half an age to get through, but even when I wasn’t actively reading, somewhere in the back of my mind I was thinking about the plight of the Avians, whether Mac was safe, whether the incompetency of the South Wood’s highest official was supposed to be a comparison to anyone in power down here in reality. The Wood is a world to get lost in, with its convoluted politics and customs, and it quickly becomes clear that the story of Wildwood is really an epic decades in the making. It’s complicated and ultimately satisfying to finish.
The cast of characters is great. Since Prue and Curtis are so young—something like twelve years old—there’s no embarrassingly predictable romantic subplot, and nobody’s truly horrible to them. Wildwood, overall, is a nice fantasy world. Nobody circumvents the “usual evil” while the world still retains enough “bad” for older audiences to be captivated. Prue and Curtis have to grow up fast and make some rough choices, but they deal in a realistic way. People die; it’s a war. People kill people. War is messy. Politics are messy. Characters are drawn in shades of grey. I may have wanted a little more depth on some characters if there were more space—even more space—in the book, as most of the good characters are simply good all the way to the core, but at the same time it is almost refreshing to have good people be just that—good.
There isn’t anyone I would not recommend this book to. The target audience is around middle school age, but I wouldn’t be surprised if older readers enjoyed it just as well before passing it down to younger siblings.
Kat Alexander is a Figment reviewer who (clearly) loves to read and comment. She’s active on a number of sites including NaNo, Fiction Press, and FanFiction under aneko24.