Colin Meloy


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

June 23, 2020

ome children's books are just magical, and appeal to readers of all ages. I am thinking of The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, The Rescuers by Margery Sharp, the Sabriel books by Garth Nix - there are so many great books! I saw this copy of Wildwood at a library booksale, and picked it up. The cover says it is a New York Times bestseller, and the blurbs on the back offer effusive praise. Could this be a classic tale that I have missed? No.

When reading Wildwood, I found it impossible to engage in the "willing suspension of disbelief" that is so necessary for fantasy stories. The first line of the novel is: "How five crows managed to lift a twenty pound baby boy into the air was beyond Prue, but that was certainly the least of her worries." Five crows couldn't possibly lift a baby, let alone carry him off to the forest. I would call this a problem of logistics - errors that just don't make sense, and there are numerous ones in this novel that keep distracting from the narrative. When the bad guys of South Wood arrive to arrest the embassy of the birds, why don't the birds just fly away before the soldiers arrive?

The Dowager Governess somehow convinces all the coyotes to become her soldiers - and manages to equip them with uniforms and muskets and cannons. Where would these armaments come from? Prue is living in modern Portland - if the Dowager is sneaking out from the Impassable Wilderness to buy weapons, she would be able to easily find rifles, shotguns and pistols - but muskets and black powder? Coyotes are not large animals - if they were able to walk upright, a human sized musket would be much too large for a coyote to wield.

Twelve year old Prue rides on the back of an eagle (again the problem of how can a bird bear such a large weight - even the illustration on page 275 showing Prue riding the eagle looks ridiculous, she is clearly larger than the eagle itself). The eagle carrying Prue climbs even higher - he is so high that Prue could feel her lungs gasping for air at the altitude - and yet a coyote is able to hit the eagle with an arrow, which is simply impossible. Even the strongest human-sized archer could only fire an arrow a few hundred yards high.

Why does the Dowager Governess want so desperately to recruit Curtis to her evil machinations, while she tries so hard to get Prue to return to Portland? Why not simply have Prue killed? What is the significance of Prue ringing the bell on the Ghost Bridge?

Prue is picked up by Richard the mailman, who gives her a ride in the postal van down to the South Woods. The mailtruck drives all night long, arriving at the wall at the North Gate at dawn. If a truck is going to drive all night, even at a moderately slow rate, it is going to cover hundreds of miles, Prue should have crossed from Oregon into California. But this distance shrinks dramatically when Prue journeys back to the north. Where do the inhabitants of the Impassable Wilderness get gasoline, autoparts or any other pieces of this infrastructure?

At the end, Prue convinces a small army of animals to march from the North Wood to fight the Dowager Governess at the ancient ruins. But the coyote warren is closer to the ancient ruins, and the coyotes depart sooner. Yet somehow Prue and the North Woods army arrives at the ancient ruins first, despite stopping off at the deserted coyote warren to rescue the Bandit King.

The Dowager Governess must sacrifice the baby boy at noon of the autumn equinox to the evil ivy, and this will give the ivy the power to destroy everything in the Impassable Wilderness (Why? Who knows, there is no explanation for this bizarre magic). The battle is engaged just before noon, as the army of coyotes clash with the bandits and animals of the North Woods. There are pages of carefully sanitized violence (a children's book isn't going to describe the horrific effects of bayonets, musket balls and cannon fire), and the fight goes badly for our heroes. In the thick of the fighting, the bandit king is severly wounded. Somehow, Prue runs between all the furiously fighting creatures, and kneels at the side of the wounded king, who is suddenly all alone on the battlefield. The Dowager Governess laughs at their plight, and rides of to sacrifice Mac at the ruined altar - and it is STILL before noon! It's as if the entire battle happens in just a few minutes, despite that fact that there is time for Prue to run to both the left and right flank and tell the bandit captains there that they are instructed to engage. In the climatic scene that feels stolen directly out of The Hobbit, the eagles fly in at the last minute and save the day.

This is not a good book. I am returning it to the library, they can resell it at the next booksale. I see that there is a sequel, which presumably answers questions like why Curtis is a "halfbreed", but I am not interested in reading any more by this author.