The Impassable Wilderness lies on the edge of Portland, Oregon. Twelve year old Prue has been told by her parents never to enter the mysterious wild woods across the river but one day, crows swoop down and carry her baby brother off into the woods. She can’t bear to tell her parents that he’s gone, so Prue heads off into the unknown to rescue him, accompanied by her friend Curtis.

At first glance, Wildwood is an attractive book that will be sure to garner attention in store. Beautifully illustrated by Colin Meloy’s partner, Carson Ellis, this Canongate edition has a selection of coloured plates as well as an abundance of black and white drawings within the text. The writing itself is charming and has the sense of a childish imagination. Remember the days when you ran off into the wilderness by your house to play in a land of make believe, never mind if the wilderness was a small park or clump of trees? That’s exactly what Wildwood feels like.

Understandably, it is going to be likened to Narnia. The children find themselves in a magical land that no one else can enter, with talking animals and an evil queen. It doesn’t have any grand messages though and there is a sense that nature is important to Meloy. The Wildwood is beautifully described and the passages describing the wood itself are what stand out, I especially loved the descriptions of the impassable brambles.

However Wildwood didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Whilst it is a lovely children’s story, the characters are not complex enough to engage an adult reader for over 500 pages and the story starts to drag. On the other hand, the vocabulary strikes me as a little too advanced for pre-teen readers. I’m sure each page contains a word that a parent would need to explain; apocryphal, spectre, culvert, loam, blanch, phalanx, anarchistic, brackish, promontory, bagatelle, obliterated, decimated… I could go on. I know reading helps expand a child’s vocabulary and perhaps parents will like to challenge their offspring with this, but it seems a little too grown up for the content of the story.

Wildwood will be available in the UK in hardback and ebook editions from 1st March 2012. I believe it is already available in the US. Thanks go to Canongate for providing me with a copy for review.