Saturday, January 9, 2016

Book Review: The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey

I had the opportunity to read a digital-ARC of this book from NetGalley. In this modern fairy tale, two adolescent girls from two completely different walks of life team up to discover the dark secrets of Dreadwillow Carse. Queen Sula is dying and her twelve-year-old daughter, Princess Jeniah is set to ascend to power. Aon Greenlaw is a peasant girl who lives in the town of Emberfell.
As Jeniah is preparing to become a queen, she learns of the existence of Dreadwillow Carse, a dark and disturbing marsh in the kingdom. Queen Sula warns her that she must never go there: "The people rely on us to maintain peace and prosperity. And it is written in the oldest books: If any monarch enters Dreadwillow Carse, then the Monarchy will fall." This warning only makes Jeniah more determined to find out just what is in this forbidden bog.

Aon has always been secretly drawn to Dreadwillow Carse. She keeps her fascination to herself, because the kingdom is a happy and peaceful land. Everyone is happy all the time, and the expression of sadness of any sort is seen as being disrespectful to the monarchy. She visits the edges of the Carse, can hear a "sad, haunting waltz" coming from deep within the Carse, but is always forced to leave by the misery and terror that consumes her.

The princess and Aon meet each other at the edge of the Carse. Aon rescues Jeniah from the carnivorous bramble that has ahold of her. Aon agrees to explore the Carse for Jeniah to find out the reason she's forbidden to enter. But when Aon doesn't come back out of the bog, Jeniah is compelled to go in to find her.

There is so much that I really enjoyed about this book. The characters are very accessible to young readers. Even though this is a fairy tale, the girls have thoughts, feelings, and motives that we all can recognize. Brian Farrey's style of character development reminds me a lot of Red: The True Story of Little Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff .

Farrey describes the setting beautifully. I can picture the kingdom so well, and would love to climb into the book and explore it. From the nooks and crannies of Nine Towers (the castle) to the heart of Dreadwillow Carse, the descriptions and details are so vivid, that I'm drawn into it, much like the characters are drawn into the Carse.

The story moves along quickly. As the characters make their way deeper and deeper into the mystery, there is plenty of suspense and tension. The characters are faced with danger, tough decisions, and grief and I wasn't sure what was going to happen right up to the end. I believe this book is going to be popular with middle grade students. I think this would be an awesome addition to my classroom library.

Hardcover, 240 pages
Expected publication: April 19, 2016 by Algonquin Young Readers

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