Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Under Wildwood by Colin Meloy

It was probably inevitable that Colin Meloy would write a fantasy novel.

The frontman of The Decemberists actually had a bit of a pedigree coming in to the release of his first novel last year: in addition to the highly acclaimed fiction writer Maile Meloy for a big sister, he’s also got an undergraduate degree in creative writing and had contributed an entry to the 33⅓ series (on Let It Be by The Replacements).  Plus there were all the lengthy story songs he’d written for the band, like “The Crane Wife” (based on a Japanese folktale) and “The Island” (an eleven-minute encapsulation of The Tempest).  Oh, and that epic, album-length rock opera The Hazards of Love, which is screaming to be staged.  (And if Wikipedia is to believed, it has been, albeit in small production in Montreal.)

So the announcement that he’d write a series of children’s fantasy novels was no surprise.  What was a surprise was how disappointed I was in Wildwood, the first volume.  It was far from bad, but I was expecting more imagination from Meloy than what I got: the plot was describable—without hyperbole—as “Labyrinth in Narnia, if Narnia were on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon.”  It was enjoyable (not to mention laden with cleverly bizarre illustrations by the artist Carson Ellis, who happens to be Mrs. Meloy), but not fantastic (pardon the pun).

It’s a joy, then, to report that the least imaginative thing about Under Wildwood (the second in a projected trilogy) is its title.

The action picks up several months after the end of the first volume—Prue has returned to normal life after her adventures in the Impassable Wilderness, while her friend Curtis remains in the woods, having joined a pack of bandits (don’t worry, they’re nice bandits).  Prue still feels the pull of the Wilderness, and she probably shouldn’t have told her strange but kindly new teacher about it.  Oops.

Meanwhile, Curtis’s parents, off to Europe on their worldwide search for the missing son who is pretty much literally in their backyard, leave their two daughters in the care of a local orphanage and machine parts factory.  Also not the best idea.

The offbeat imagination that was sorely lacking in the first volume of the book is present in spades here—villainous villains, adventurous adventures, comical sidekicks (if you don’t fall in love with the moles, there’s nothing I can do for you) , and fascinating inventions.  Not to mention the cliffhanger that is de rigeur for the second parts of trilogies.  All totaled, I now look terribly forward to volume 3, whenever it may arrive.

1 comment :

KateCoombs said...

I was a little disappointed in the first one, too, so I'm very glad to hear the second one is more imaginative!