Author: Colin Meloy
Artist: Carson Ellis
Type: Fiction, novel
Part of series: The Wildwood Chronicles (#2)
I read it: April 2016
Winter in Wildwood. An assassin tracks Prue McKeel, while Curtis undergoes bandit training. The two eventually meet again, and do go underground, though that whole episode doesn’t happen until about halfway through the book. A lot of the action centers on the new characters.
Curtis’ grieving parents, before going on a wild goose chase to try to find him overseas, plop his two sisters in a local orphanage. The sisters, Rachel and Elsie, soon discover that the orphanage doubles as a sweatshop. The steaming and clanking servitude is a distinct counterpoint to the natural wonders of Wildwood, bringing to mind Saruman’s plotline from The Two Towers. And lo and behold, here we have the second book in a trilogy, trying to work as both a novel and a bridge. The orphanage stuff is refreshing and introduces a few new allies and villains. (It dips into corniness when the machine parts industrialist, Joffrey Unthank, refers to himself as an actual “Titan of Industry,” part of a buffoonish enclave of selfish capitalists. Meloy can write grayer shades than that, so it’s a bit of an eye-roll.)
As for the “under,” Prue and Curtis end up in the company of moles and help them fight a miniature battle. Amusing and (thankfully) brief, it serves more as plot machinery than anything else. The younger readers might appreciate it, and it does offer a breather from some of the uglier aspects of the story (child servitude, stories of bodily punishment), but it mostly just offers a good title for the book. It’s not the part of the story that I think of as the book being about.
Overall, this installment is more or less as good as the first, a string of small episodes that interlink into a wider fantasy drama. You just have to get over some of Meloy’s wordiness, such as a character seeing “what could only be described as” the thing she is seeing. Well, yes. Just describe it. Otherwise, the series remains a perfectly serviceable adventure tale.