Fans of Meloy’s indie-rock band, The Decemberists, will recognize themes running through his engaging debut celebrating the struggle of ordinary folk (including plants and animals) to throw off tyranny and shape their destinies.
When her baby brother is carried off by crows to the Impassable Wilderness at the heart of Portland, Ore., stubbornly courageous Prue McKeel, 12, sets out to reclaim him, accompanied by annoying schoolfellow and class pariah Curtis Mehlberg. Their quest soon becomes entangled with longstanding conflicts among residents of this magical wilderness, which harbors secrets both strange (talking animals, sentient plants) and familiar (xenophobic mistrust, government red tape). Overcoming a slow start, the story gains momentum when Prue and Curtis enter the woods, encountering its vividly portrayed denizens, human and otherwise. Captured by the mysterious Dowager Governess, Curtis must choose sides in a confusing conflict; either way, he’ll need courage and ingenuity to survive. Prue’s search leads through South Wood’s impenetrable bureaucracy to North Wood, where mystics commune with nature. Gritty urban settings abound in contemporary fantasy (Holly Black, Neil Gaiman and China Miéville are exemplars). Faithfully recreating Portland’s wild Forest Park, Meloy gives his world a uniquely Pacific Northwest spin. Illustrations by Ellis, Meloy’s wife, bring forest and inhabitants to gently whimsical life.
A satisfying blend of fantasy, adventure story, eco-fable and political satire with broad appeal; especially recommended for preteen boys. (Fantasy. 10 & up)