I haven’t read that many indie published books, but I had been following the blog You Write Fiction for about a year and a half. It’s full of sarcsatic wit, writerly humor, and tips for writing and storytelling. The guy behind the blog, Nate Philbrick, is a Christian fantasy writer, and I widely enjoyed all his posts and his vision for fantasy fiction. Plus, I’d heard that he had indie published some really cool stories, among which are Little One and Judgement Wheel. So when the news came out that he was going to publish a fantasy novel, Where the Woods Grow Wild, I decided to mark my calander.
And guess what!?!?!? Drumroll … I got it in … that’s right … PAPERBACK. The cover is really pretty and I was pretty excited to get it in the mail. I mean, I’ve never waited or anticipated a certain release date for months and months unless it’s for the next Star Wars movie, but I have to say that Mister Philbrick did an excellent job in marketing it.
Intro: Over. Review: Here now.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel and I was impressed with the writing style. The characters, personalities, and general playful and light feel of the story reminded me a lot of a daily life of hobbits. Percy Durbity, a minor character who I hope gets more page time in the sequel, made me think of Samwise Gamgee. The point is, a lot of fantasy novels these days are very dark, depressing, and foreboding. It’s hard to find a well written fantasy that’s light hearted and easy and fun to read. Where the Woods Grow Wild, however, fits this unfortunately scarce fantasy genre wonderfully. I would even recommend it as a family read aloud, a book that can be enjoyed by all ages. I was glad to take a break from the tense Stormlight Archive and the Pandora Hearts manga series and relax with something light and genuinely enjoyable during Christmas break.
- Characters. 4/5 I loved the characters. I feel like we could have had more background with the main and secondary characters. All we know is what they do, where they live, and what they like to do. But I was left wondering about the protagonist’s past and family. Well, there’s always the sequel.
- We have Martin, the protagonist, who works at an inn washing the dishes and feeding the pigs. Upon an accidental trip into the woods to save a runaway pig, a strange occurence strikes which gives him a desire to explore the uknown forest further. Martin is a reasonable character, unlike those reckless youth we see so often, and is a hard worker.
- Elodie, his friend, or maybe hinted as sometimes more than just a friend, is a perfect example as a “strong” female character. She knows what she wants and will fight against all odds to get to it without completely losing her head over the matter.
- Illo, a girl that both Martin and Elodie meet in the woods, has a temper and a stubbornness problem, but is also very loyal. We get to learn about her past and why she stays with her “older sister,” Fella. There’s a character that comes to mind whenever I think of Illo: I believe Jayla from Star Trek: Beyond is a perfect example of who I’m trying to describe Illo as.
- Bramble seems to me like a cute little snuggly ball of fluff. His description reminded me of a rabbit and his speech just drives me crazy-nutters because it’s so adorable. He’s constantly warning about the servants of Nayadu: “Musn’t poke a turtleblossom. Mustn’t eat a puffernut. Mustn’t make Nayadu angry.”
- Plot. 5/5 I love how the plot starts simple and stays simple. Sometimes I have the hardest time with plots when it comes to fantasy novels. For example, I’m 350 pages through The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, and I’m pretty near to clueless as to what the bottomline plot actually is. (Well, it is 1200 something pages, so I’m not exactly complaining, but still.) Kudos to Nate Philbrick for keeping the readers engaged with no plot holes and rabbit trails (mustn’t follow the plot bunnies). I was able to keep reading while being completely aware as to what was going on and was able to stay on track. I just love reading a good novel and understanding everything I read.
- The plot twists were fun, unexpected, and very well done, I think. The twists happen towards the end when you figure out this person really is this person and so on, without complicating things too much. It made the story memorable and interesting down to the last word.
- The pacing, I think, could have been done better. There were a couple times in the middle where I felt like it was switching back and forth between different characters and point of view, and things started getting predictable. I just wanted to speed things up a bit. I feel this way with a lot of books though, and sometimes wonder if I’m simply an impatient reader. If I were writing, there are a couple scenes I’d consider taking out, but other than those, I think the pacing was alright.
- Setting and Worldbuilding. 5/5 Fantasy novels feature forests frequently. (Honest, that alliteration came quite by accident.) They really seem to be the trend nowadays. And Where the Woods Grow Wild is unique in that … the forest is unique? And that’s really what I’m getting at. Sometimes, fantasy forests are really nothing special. They’re just there on the map to give the characters a purposeful looking journey. This forest, however, is the woods. There are a lot of unknown things in the woods, such as turtleblossoms, flying foxes, shapeshifters, puddle plants, finch eggs, prickle toads, dryads, puffernuts, and trunders. All sorts of different creatures live in the forest and there are all sorts of different kinds of nuts and snakes to avoid.
Martin and Elodie live in Bardun Village, which is the same as any small fantasy village you can picture, with a mayor, thatched roofs, and cobblestoned streets. There wasn’t too much worldbuilding done with Bardun Village, as most of the story takes place in the woods. As far as description and detail goes, there wasn’t a whole lot of it as to make a reader’s eyes droop, and yet I wasn’t trying to set up the scene using nothing but my imagination. Donald Maass, an author who wrote a book on writing tips that I enjoyed, said something along the lines of “writing is considered an art when you’ve described a place in your story without the reader even knowing.” Reading Where the Woods Grow Wild was like that.
So there’s my review. I highly recommend this book. And honestly, I think the cover is inviting enough because I got my younger sister to read it without trying hard at all. It’s a great, entertaining read for all ages. Do you think you’ll give Where the Woods Grow Wild a Try? Be sure and follow Nate Philbrick’s blog (mentioned at the top) and follow him on Twitter (which you won’t regret). Can’t wait to hear what you thought about the review! In the meantime, happy holdiays and Merry Christmas.