Wildwood is the first book in a series by Colin Meloy, the lead singer for the Decemberists. Now, anyone who knows me is aware that the Decemberists are my absolute favorite band of all time. When it was announced that Colin Meloy would be writing a novel, I was ecstatic. When I found out he would be doing a book signing at a local indie bookstore and I would get to meet him after idolizing him for 6 years, I just about died.
The book signing was incredible. He and his wife, the illustrator of Wildwood, gave a talk about the origins of the idea and about their collaboration. I sat in the front row, just in front of him, and was the third person in line to have my book signed. I had one of those “I’m obviously a bigger fan than anyone else here” moments. And for the whole night afterwards, I was a raving lunatic.
Naturally, as such a huge fan of his writing in music, I expected to be over the moon about his novel as well. Sadly, I was disappointed. I’m not sure why I didn’t enjoy the novel as much. Perhaps I over-hyped it in my head so much that the actual reading of the book did not live up to my high expectations. The novel’s voice was distinctly Colin’s, and I could hear him reading it to me in my head, which was a fascinating experience (think about it: you don’t often know what the author himself sounds like). Still, his writing doesn’t seem to be able to endure for long stretches. It would seem that some people were just meant to write music.
That’s not so say that the plot wasn’t everything I expected from him. The novel tells the story of Prue, a twelve year old girl living in Portland with her parents and baby brother. One day, as she’s watching her year-old brother Mac, he is abducted by a murder of crows and taken into the Impassable Wilderness, a swath of forest based on Portland’s own Forest Park. In the novel, this park is protected by a magical ward, which keeps Portlanders on the outside and residents of the Wood inside. Everyone in Portland avoids the forest, for no one knows of anyone who has ever gone inside and come back out again. Prue must venture into the Impassable Wilderness to save her brother with her unlikely sidekick, the cowardly and clumsy Curtis. The cast of character they encounter upon entering the forest is varied and highly unusual–an evil, deposed queen, talking animals, militaristic coyotes in Napoleonic uniform, and distinctly Irish bandits who live a wild, Robin Hood-esque lifestyle in Wildwood. Prue and Curtis are separated for most of the novel, only to be reunited for the final battle in the last pages of the book.
I was surprised that the book was a little gory. For a book written for a younger audience, there were a lot of rather graphic scenes (relatively speaking, of course). And a great deal of Meloy’s darkness crept into the writing. Curtis discovers the rather dastardly reason for Mac’s abduction. It seems that every character who comes into contact with Prue meets a most unfortunate and painful fate. And everyone she meets (at least in South Wood) has a rather sinister feel to them. Honestly, it was a bit too heavy a mix of hopeless and frightening for the age group for which it was intended.
Sadly, I wouldn’t recommend this novel to either kids or adults. Perhaps the distracting circumstances of my life are more to blame than the actual writing, but my reading of the book was sluggish and reluctant. Not as well written as I expected. Pass this one up.
Sorry Colin. I still love you.