Monday, March 27, 2017

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey

This review was written by: B
Received: Publisher (Algonquin Young Readers)
Date of Publication: April 2016
Pages: 245
Stars: 4/5

Official Summary:
A princess and a peasant girl must embark on a dangerous quest to outwit a centuries-old warning foretelling the fall of the Monarchy in this modern fairy tale.

In the center of the verdant Monarchy lies Dreadwillow Carse, a black and desolate bog that the happy people of the land do their best to ignore.  Little is known about it, except for one dire warning: If any monarch enters Dreadwillow Carse, then the Monarchy will fall.  Twelve-year-old Jeniah yearns to know what the marsh could possibly conceal that might topple her family's thousand-year reign of peace and prosperity.

Meanwhile, in the nearby town of Emberfell, where everyone lives with unending joy, a girl named Aon hides a sorrow she can never reveal.  She knows that something in the Carse -- something that sings a haunting tune only Aon can hear -- holds the cure for her sadness.  Yet no matter how many times she tries to enter, the terror-inducing dreadwillow treees keep her away.

After a chance meeting, Princess Jeniah and Aon hatch a plan to send Aon into the heart of the Carse to unlock its darkest secret.  But when Aon doesn't return, a guilt-stricken Jeniah must enter the Carse to try and rescue her friend -- even if it means risking the entire Monarchy.

My Thoughts:

"Questions are the lamplight that lead us from the darkness.  And you know what lamplight really is, yes?  Fire.  You should tread carefully your highness."
~Skonas (The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse)

What is a young girl to do when her beloved mother, the queen of an entire kingdom, suddenly falls ill, leaving the girl with no other choice but to take up the throne much earlier than expected?  This sudden horror has just become Jeniah's reality.  She's a headstrong individual with a curiosity like no other and a desire to do her kingdom justice, a kingdom that has known nothing but prosperity for centuries upon centuries.  However, she thought she had years to learn about becoming an efficient ruler before officially taking the throne, but this luxury is suddenly taken away from her as she is left with no other option.  As time is quickly running out for her to understand how to fairly rule just as the current cherished queen does, the overbearing remembrance of her sickly mother is constantly hanging in the back of her mind.  As a result, the fact that she is told the entire Monarchy will fall before her very eyes if she ever steps foot in the forbidden Dreadwillow Carse isn't exactly making the situation any better.  Put a mystery in front of Jeniah, and she won't let the subject go until she figures it all out.

Aon is just a village girl living under the kingdom's rule . . . but she's not like the other villagers.  No, Aon's got a secret of her very own that alienates her, even from her own family.  Nobody else in the entire kingdom, save for the royalty, knows what sadness is or can even fathom the concept, let alone define it.  Yet, Aon's the exception.  This makes her drawn to the Carse (the one place in the entire kingdom that every other villager refuses to step foot in) where she is strangely comforted.

By a twist of fate, Jeniah's and Aon's lives intertwine, leading them both on a journey they never could have imagined!  In return for a personal request to Jeniah, Aon agrees to figure out what goes on inside the enigmatic Carse for the princess, as no one else will dare go near the bog of unnatural darkness in a world that only knows light. However, something goes terribly wrong, and Jeniah is forced to put her entire kingdom at stake for one subject!

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse will take you on a journey that not many fantasy Middle Grade novels have ever gone on before, challenging the reader to face hard-hitting questions while going on a creepy, topsy-turvy ride into a kingdom that never could have been imagined except by Brian Farrey!  My favorite MG novels have always been in either the fantasy or contemporary genres, my ultimate favorites being The Thing About Jellyfish (contemporary) and The Thickety (fantasy).  The fact that this book even rivaled my deep love of The Thickety by J. A. White, which  is ridiculously hard to do, shocked me to my genuine, bookish core. I honestly had no idea how much I would come to deeply love and appreciate this delightfully spooky novel!    

Farrey painted an eerie picture of a happy little kingdom that made me question just how far a conscience mind was willing to go in order to stay in a complete trance of bliss.  For example, if a local villager was to die, he or she would immediately be forgotten by those around them, their house abandoned, and their children taken in by an adoptive family, as if there was never a loss to begin with.  And the worst part was that the villagers had no idea that they were actually doing this.  They knew no other way or emotions to conjure in these traditionally sorrowful times.  Aon was the only one who noticed how messed up life truly was, but voicing her observations would have made no difference to the contented people who surrounded her every waking moment.  I'm sure that everyone can easily agree that, hypothetically speaking, being in a constant jovial state without any stress or sorrow would be a blessing, but this book almost made it seem like an unwanted curse!

The two great female leads were much appreciated, as they were able to represent different struggles and opportunities throughout the book, as well as showcase that girls can have just as awesome of adventures as boys ever could and be equally brilliant and strong!  (Haha Happenstance (the Books of Umber), Conn (the Magic Thief series), Beck (the Pillage series), and the Time Warp Trio dudes!!!! Guess not all books are dominated by males! Those are all really good books, though, guys.  Check them out.  Seriously.  They're awesome, and that last part was not sarcasm!)  For example, Aon communicated that being different had its own strengths, even though being different made her an outsider.  If she hadn't been an outsider who had no qualms about going into the Carse, Jeniah would have never been able to investigate the Carse through a secondary party.

I also loved how Farrey demonstrated that being able to feel sadness wasn't something to be ashamed of.  Instead, he tried to make the audience understand that it was normal and something that one shouldn't have to hide, which is a great message for the book's directed age range.  In fact, the author tried to express the positive side to being unhappy or melancholic (if you can imagine that!).  He conveyed that it is important to grieve and remember those who we have lost, and while recalling past loved ones may be painful, it can also bring about closure, fonder memories, hidden strength, and creative outlets.

Two other fabulous and thoroughly explored themes that I adored in The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse were curiosity and decision making.

Answers are the pyre that banishes darkness altogether.
~Skonas (The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse)

Despite the fact that Jeniah was constantly told to not question specific subjects (particularly the Carse) she couldn't help herself.  However, she later discovered that some questions may be hard to answer and/or even fathom.  Perhaps you may even wish that you never found out the truth to begin with, yet without truth, life would be a lie.  I absolutely loved how this concept was explored and laid out.  The story couldn't have unfolded in a better way, with a creepy, slightly unsettling atmosphere that only deepened as the book came to a finish, which makes The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse enjoyable for all ages.  I couldn't have asked for a better ending!

I highly recommend this book if you're looking for a unique MG experience with a surprisingly ominous atmosphere, an addictive mystery, a kick-butt female relationship, and amazing themes. Look no further!  This is the perfect fit for you! 

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