By Colin Meloy
Illustrated by Carson Ellis
Balzer + Bray, 2011
Wildwood is a young adult fantasy novel in the classic vein of Narnia, with talking animals, violent battles, and epic adventures.
Prue McKeel is taking her little brother Max on an outing one day when a large murder of crows descends on them, picks Max up, and carries him away. She manages to chase after them just long enough to see them fly across the river and into the Wildwood, an area famous in local legend as a place where people go into, but don't come back out.
Well, what can she do? Prue goes in after her brother. She is followed, uninvited, by her friend Curtis. Quite frankly, Curtis is not the sort of person ideally suited for saving little brothers from violent crows, but before she can send him back they are attacked by coyotes -- talking coyotes, standing on their hind legs and wearing small uniforms.
Prue manages to escape, and is picked up by a postman, who takes her into the city -- but not her city. A city full of talking animals (and some humans), who are fairly useless and much more interested in local politics than in saving her brother. Meanwhile, the coyotes take Curtis to meet their queen, who happens to be human, and for reasons unclear would like Curtis to help her in her battle to take over the Wildwood.
The story is perhaps a bit more complex than most, with five warring groups battling for the control of the woods, requiring Prue and Curtis to travel back and forth between them repeatedly, battling battles, forging treaties, and just in general not making any progress on the whole 'saving-Max' project. Unfortunately, the flip side to this is that the book contains no particularly new or interesting ideas.
Perhaps the biggest flaw with this novel is the narrative, which is written in fairly formal language with a superabundance of stalwartly descriptive but admittedly superfluous adjectives, the sheer preponderance of which would make Bulwer-Lytton proud. This is annoying, but moreover, it contrasts sharply with the characters' speech, which is informal and not particularly wordy. Given the length of the book and the slow pace of the plot, this conceit has plenty of time to wear on the reader. Overall, in my opinion, it is not worth the time it takes to plow through it.
Accelerated reader level 6.3.