Tag Archives: Narnia

A wild new Narnia: Wildwood by Colin Meloy

wildwoodThere is something extra nice about a thick book, don’t you think? There’s the promise of having lots of story in there to draw out over many wintry evenings. That’s exactly what I did with Colin Meloy’s Wildwood. I missed this one when it came out, but now I’m lucky to be able to follow it up right away with the second in the series, Under Wildwood.

I had a good feeling as soon as I read the first line of this story. It’s a great opening:

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.

After her little brother is kidnapped by the crows, Prue must travel into the Impassable Wilderness in search of him, a vast and mysterious area on the edge of Portland. She doesn’t go alone. On her way she runs into Curtis, a boy from school, who travels with her into the woods. What they find there is beyond belief, a whole other world peopled with talking animals, powerful and dangerous people, and magic. Curtis is captured, taken prisoner by the Dowager Governess, who has evil plans that don’t stay secret for long. Prue soon discovers that war is brewing in Wildwood, and her brother’s fate is tied to the outcome.

The story is quirky and lively, with a cast of characters who are modern and familiar all at once. You will cheer for Prue and Curtis, as they transform from believable ordinary kids who might live down the street from you, into the heroes of a remarkable adventure. The Dowager Governess will certainly remind you of the White Witch, but as much as there are shades of Narnia here, it’s not too much, it just creates a comforting feeling, like a new pair of slippers that feels a little like your favourite old pair. Meloy’s tale is an original, and one that seems perfect for reading aloud, close to a Christmas tree. Carson Ellis’s illustrations could not be a better fit for such a cool, memorable book. It will certainly be just right for any ten-year olds on your list this year (and maybe even for their hip parents).

Wildwood is published by Balzer + Bray.

The Spindlers

Gosh it’s nice to read such a good yarn, because that’s how I’d describe Lauren Oliver‘s new middle grade novel, The Spindlers. It’s the kind of book you want to escape into, curled up under a blanket on a chilly day. 

When the spindlers steal Liza’s brother’s soul, only Liza knows what must be done. She descends Below to rescue Patrick’s soul, to an otherworldly place filled with strange creatures. Some are helpful, like the lumer-lumpen, who light the woodland paths, and the nocturni, the caretakers of human souls. Others are terrifying, like the scrags, the shape-shifting lizard-like minions of the spindler queen. Oliver’s book has all of the trademarks of a fine quest story, and as Liza makes her way, relying on her wits and the help of those she meets, the narrative will call to mind some of the best-loved books about venturing to other worlds, such as Coraline, Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland.

There’s something comfortable about recognizing the conventions of a particular type of story, don’t you think? It’s a mixture of feeling reassured and delighted, like when it’s getting close to Christmas and you start taking out all of your most loved decorations and setting them up around the house. “Oh yes, there you are!” you think when you unwrap your favourite ornaments after months of forgetting about them. So in The Spindlers, when you first meet the eccentric talking rat Mirabella, you soon see that she will be Liza’s guide on her adventure and it starts feeling like the story is falling into place in a way that is familiar and magical at once. By the time I reached the last part of the story and it became clear that it was going to end with a “test of wills” where Liza would have to outsmart the spindler queen in order to win her brother’s soul, I was a very satisfied reader. I love that plot element of many quest stories.  

What I think is special about The Spindlers is that Oliver manages to offer readers a conventional quest structure, but with more than enough creativity in the world and characters she has imagined to make the book feel different and memorable in its own right. I’d say it’s less frightening than Coraline, but just as captivating. I think it could be quite something in a graphic novel format too. Iacopo Bruno’s striking cover certainly gets me wishing that there were some illustrations scattered throughout the book. A gorgeous new adventure that belongs right next to some of the great classics, The Spindlers will be winning over readers for a long time to come.

The Spindlers is published by Harper.