© Colin Meloy, illustration © Carson Ellis.
There’s nothing better than a thick book when it’s a good read, and this is one. A few chapters in you’re enjoying the world the writer has created, and you look at all the pages still to come with satisfaction. At least I do. Better yet when the book has maps and many illustrations, as this one does.
Prue McKeel lives in Portland, Oregon with her parents and baby brother Mac. Her Saturday begins in an ordinary way, with the parents off to a craft fair and Prue on her bike with Mac in his Radio Flyer wagon attached behind, riding around the neighborhood running errands, going to the park where Mac can crawl around. Ordinary until a huge flock of crows descends on them and carries Mac off across the Willamette River to an area of unknown woods called The Impassable Wilderness! Prue knows she has to go after Mac, even though no one she knows has ever ventured into that thick forest. She fools her parents into thinking Mac is asleep in his room, and sneaks out at dawn intent on finding the baby and bringing him back. Her friend Curtis is at first an annoyance. Curtis knows something is up and wants to come along. Prue tries to discourage him, but in the end reluctantly agrees, and the two of them cross the railroad bridge (narrowly missing being hit by a train) and into the forest.
Inside there’s a whole world unknown to mundane Portland, protected by powerful magic spells. In the center is The Wildwood, a dangerous place full of talking Coyote soldiers led by a mad human Queen, and bandits led by their King, both at war with each other. Then there’s the Avian Principality, kingdom of birds, and at either end are two areas settled by humans and talking animals both, civilized South Wood and rural North Wood. Prue and Curtis are soon separated and each has adventures full of danger and excitement trying to find and rescue the stolen baby. The Wildwood Queen has a desperate plan for the child, and it will mean death everyone in the entire place if she succeeds.
I had a great time reading this, the characters are well developed and appealing, the ideas clever and creative. The illustrations by Carson Ellis are full of fun details, stylized in a way that reminds me of artists like Charles Wysocki and Charley Harper. Attractive, though they do fall a bit short on emotional content that might help draw us into the story. She also was the illustrator of “The Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stewart, another book I liked, and she’s the wife of the author.
Recommended, and I’ll be getting book two of the series one of these days. Note that this one is complete and self-contained, with plenty of satisfying resolution but room left for sequels, and “Under Wildwood” is the first of those.