'Wildwood,' written by Colin Meloy and illustrated by Carson Ellis, is long for a middle-grade novel, but it makes for a fun read. When Prue's little brother is kidnapped by a murder of crows, Prue and her friend Curtis take off after him into the Impassable Wilderness outside Portland.
There, they find countries of talking animals living alongside humans. They also stumble onto the scheme of the Dowager Governess, the deposed ruler whose plot to regain power requires sacrificing Prue's brother to the ivy. Fed with human blood, the invasive plant will overrun and kill everything at the Governess's command.
'Wildwood' is a great read for older middle grade readers, aged 12-13 years. It is reminiscent of 'Narnia' and 'Redwall.' It's very witty when it wants to be, and serious when it needs to be. The illustrations are also beautifully done. Prue and Curtis are both resourceful, likeable characters, appealing to male and female readers.
However, 'Wildwood' seems like it should be set in Europe. It sends a clear message about invasive species, violence and disrupting the natural order. Yet we have coyotes named Dmitri, a prince named Alexei, wildwood bandits named Brendan and Connor, and the Dowager Governess, a redheaded, pale-skinned woman dressed in buckskin and feathers.
For all that 'Wildwood' is supposed to be set in an untouched wilderness outside of Portland, Oregon, it looks a lot like Ireland or Russia. Why set a novel in the Americas and then completely ignore the existing mythology? It just seems out of place. Other than that, 'Wildwood' is a well-written, enjoyable novel.