Fantasy novel provides escape

By Sarah Contreras

Feeling world-weary?

All you need is a break from reality and a heavy dose of whimsy. Thankfully, Under Wildwood, the sophomore children’s novel from Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy, is in stores and ready to transport you away from your worries. Gorgeously illustrated by Meloy’s wife and long-time Decemberists artist-in-residence Carson Ellis, Under Wildwood will take you into a world of adventure.

Under Wildwood revisits the world Meloy created in his 2011 authorial debut, Wildwood. Across the Willamette river in the city of Portland, Ore., lies the Impassable Wilderness. While most humans regard the “I.W.” on their maps with mild curiosity and acceptance, young Prue McKeel knows better. Prue knows that the Impassable Wilderness is actually a magical world called Wildwood, inhabited by walking and talking animals, daring bandits, all-knowing mystics and dangerous fiends. Hidden from the real world by a powerful Periphery Bind, Wildwood is only accessible by its citizens and half-magical-blood humans, which Prue just so happens to be.

Under Wildwood picks up where Wildwood left off: Prue is safely home in Portland after rescuing her baby brother from a vengeful enchantress and her army of magical creatures. But Prue doesn’t want to be safe and sound. She yearns for the excitement and danger she tasted while in Wildwood and is deeply jealous that her friend, Curtis Mehlberg, has stayed in Wildwood for bandit training. But Prue’s melancholy does not last long, as dark forces are sent to attack her and she is forced to retreat back to Wildwood for protection.

Readers are introduced to new characters, too. Curtis’s family members in Portland have spent a year mourning the disappearance of their son, and his parents cling to every scrap of information about him. Following a lead to Turkey, they decide to leave Curtis’s sisters, Elsie and Rachel, at the Joffrey Unthank Home for Wayward Youth. The home lies on the border of the Impassable Wilderness and harbors secrets of its own. Curtis, Prue, Elsie and Rachel’s worlds will eventually all collide as they set out on an even bigger, more dangerous adventure than they could have ever imagined.

Under Wildwood is decidedly darker than its predecessor. While Meloy continues to employ his signature grandiose prose, he also brings in the creepier aspect of his writing (something the older fans of his music are well acquainted with). Under the kid-friendly jokes and fantasy, there is a direct attack against the evils of industrialism and corrupt government. It is easy to forget the Wildwood Chronicle series is aimed at young readers, but that is not a bad thing. By refusing to dumb down his vocabulary and posing moral questions, Meloy treats his readers with respect not usually given to children by adults.

The heroes of Under Wildwood are equally refreshing. They are not limp heroines that need saving; instead, these pre-teens do all of the saving themselves. The Wildwood books reinforce a fierce sense of self-respect and imagination while reminding young readers to enjoy their youth and all of the wide-eyedness that accompanies it.

If the hustle and bustle of responsibilities have got you down, pick up Under Wildwood and enjoy an escape from the serious into the fantastic.

4 out of 5 stars