25 April 2016

Review: The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey

Review: The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian FarreyShort take: Brian Farrey's The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse is a little mystery, a little magic, and a little fairy tale all mixed together in a coming-of-age story that opens doors to discussion of complex issues.

What's it about: The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse is the story of two girls, each of whom is burdened with adult concerns at much too young an age. Princess Jeniah's mother is dying, and soon the twelve-year-old girl will be queen of the realm, even though she has no idea how rule her people. Aon, a peasant girl, is the only person in her village who can feel any emotion except happiness. She has lived all her twelve years hiding her sorrows, especially as she lost first her mother and then her father.

What binds these two girls? A dark, forbidding bog: home to the dreadwillow trees and other evil plants. Aon is drawn to the forest almost against her will, yet she can't make herself pass into its core. Jeniah's been recently warned by her mother that if any member of the royal family enters Dreadwillow Carse, the kingdom will fall. Curiosity gets the best of Jeniah, and she sends Aon on a mission to discover the secrets of the bog. When Aon fails to return home, Jeniah is faced with a choice: Should she save her friend or save her kingdom?

Things I liked: I loved the strengths and the weaknesses of the girls. Both Aon and Jeniah had to solve puzzles to make progress in their hope to understand the bog, protect the people of the realm, and do the right thing. Their dilemmas were complex, and there wasn't always a clear right or wrong answer--decisions have consequences, which have to be weighed against each other. Sometimes the girls had help, but often they had to rely on their own resourcefulness and sense of reason. I was glad to see they were not perfect and thus could make mistakes.

I also liked the fairy tale nature of the story. Farrey included some standard elements: a quest, a princess, an evil forest, and not-quite-human characters whose motivations were unclear. There is a strong good versus evil thread in the book, but The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse is very much a coming-of-age story that touches on real-life issues disguised as a lighter tale.

Book club alert: This would make a great parent-child book club choice because there are so many points of discussion. Here are just a few that came to mind: The obligations and nature of friendship, the importance of feeling both joy and sorrow, taking time to try to determine the consequences of one's actions, and finding one's inner strength.

Recommendation: Although Brian Farrey wrote The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse for a middle grade audience, the novel should have strong appeal across age groups. The themes and characters are complex enough to attract adult attention. It is also a perfect choice for anyone who likes fairy tales, magic, and a touch of fantasy and mystery.

One complaint: Several times throughout the book there is mention of Princess Jeniah's dark skin. I'm not sure why both girls shown on the book cover seem to have very white skin. Regardless, I still highly recommended the book.


Molly 4/25/16, 8:30 AM  

SOLD! It's going on the list now. I especially like the combination of mystery, magic, fairy tale and bildungsroman. Sounds like a perfect combination for a thought-provoking, entertaining tale.

bermudaonion 4/25/16, 9:04 AM  

I think my sister (your reading twin) would like this one too.

Daryl 4/25/16, 10:20 AM  

sounds just charming .... also a bit too advanced for a 6 yr old - the only real child i know

Kailana 4/25/16, 2:44 PM  

While I do enjoy fairy tale type books, I am not sure if it is for me... Maybe one day!

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