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‘Wildwood’ entertains without fantasy element

September 9, 2011

Decemberists fans have known Colin Meloy to be a writer for years; after all, he is the band’s primary songwriter. But despite years of telling fans that he is a writer of fictions, he has never penned a novel. Well, until now.

“Wildwood” is a straight-up evolution of Meloy’s writing style. Years ago, he began by writing  songs that told stories, culminating with masterpieces like “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” After that, he moved on to themed albums like “The Crane Wife” and “Hazards of Love.” “Wildwood” completes the cycle.

The approximately 600-page novel begins with the titular character, Prue, babysitting her baby brother, Mac. While the pair is at a park, a flock- or as Meloy often points out, a murder- of crows abducts Mac and carries him from Portland, Ore. into the nearby Impassable Wilderness, a place too mountainous and dangerous for Portlinians to venture to. All that try ultimately find themselves lost within it for weeks.

Determined to find her brother, Prue sets out into the Impassable Wilderness, only to discover she is being stalked by classmate Curtis. Together, they make their way into the Impassable Wilderness, only to find an army of talking coyotes, a civilization, a magic world that non-magical people are forbidden from entering and a battle brewing over the middle territory, known as “Wildwood.”

The book can be a bit dry and boring at first. The action begins in the later part of the first 100 pages. To make matters worse, the thickness of the book makes it feel like it drags on that much more.

However, once readers get into the story, they are easily drawn in. Meloy, having years of experience as a story teller, knows to have the story begin years prior and information released to the main characters as the story goes on. The problem is just the initial wall until Prue and Curtis get in to Wildwood.

And other times, there are just things that are not to be expected. Sure, talking coyotes isn’t that unexpected in a fantasy novel. The mailman who carries a rifle around in his truck as he delivers the post? That’s unexpected.

At the same time, his lyricist beginnings are rather evident in this novel. Meloy is extremely descriptive. At times, this helps the reader to visualize the events but more often than not, it only serves as inspiration for the average reader to glaze over a page, especially in the slow-moving first few chapters.

And despite being written as a children’s novel, “Wildwood” uses some peculiar wording that the age range, and actually most people, would fail to understand. However, like Meloy’s music, the book has something of a Victorian feel, as if the late 19th century and modern day collided to create an alternate universe, and the setting of the story, near Portland, Ore. should be no surprise for fans of Meloy and his music. Neither should the fact that there’s a magic forest there that only certain people know about.

In any event, Wildwood is an entertaining novel, but not a fantasy novel on par with the likes of books like “Harry Potter” or “The Chronicles of Narnia.” The modern-esqe fairy tale aspect of the novel is interesting, but expected. Decemberist fans should check it out to see what their band leader is up to nowadays, since the band has announced its hiatus. There’s really no rush for fantasy fiction fans to read it and most others wouldn’t be able to graze through the first few chapters.

Andrew Drea

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