Reviews: Dreamwood by Heather Mackey

Dreamwood by Heather Mackey (Putnam Juvenile, Expected Publication: June 2014)

Lucy Darrington has run away from boarding school, determined to join her father on his latest expeditions into the deep Pacific Northwest.  Her father was last seen in the logging  territory of Saarthe where a blight is destroying the trees and threatening the settlements of lumbermen as well as the Lupine people.  Lucy is sure her father was looking for dreamwood, magical wood that might cure the blight.  But if any dreamwood still exists, it grows only in the Devil’s Thumb–a deadly place that can kill or drive a man insane.  Despite the dangers, Lucy is determined to find her father at any cost.  On her journey Lucy will discover unusual allies, dangerous enemies, and a realm where breaking the rules can kill you.

North American alternate history stories are still rare enough that I’m delighted when I encounter them.  Heather Mackey has set her fantasy adventure in a world that’s an intriguing mix of the familiar and unfamiliar.  The most notable difference that readers will notice from the outset are that ghosts exist, and that Lucy’s father believes he has evidence that other types of spirits also exist.  While the “civilized” cities of the east are advancing with technology and electricity, here deep in the wooded frontier territories, magic and mystery still exist in large doses.  In this story the elements of the alternate history help set the stage, but the author’s focus remains focused on our heroine and her quest.   Readers who are expecting detailed world building and explanations of history and events may be less than satisfied with the broader outlines used here, but for the sake of this story I’m not sure more detail was necessary.  Of some note is that there are natives in this version of  North America–though these folks appear to have some magic at their disposal.

I’ve run into a few pragmatic and fearless heroines lately–and Lucy is certainly one of them.  Unwilling to fit in at a school which she regards as silly and a waste of time, she takes it upon herself to run away and find her father.  Lucy is, in fact, her father’s main champion and rescuer.  She never considers leaving the task to someone else and doesn’t often doubt her own ability to succeed, despite the obstacles set in her path.  Not that Lucy is perfect, she has some growing to do, and some truths to face, but she’s the distinctive hero of this adventure.    There’s the possibility of this story leading to a sequel if the author is inclined to go there, but the ending is firm enough that this makes for a perfectly satisfying stand alone.

Warning!  Small spoiler ahead!

I’m a fan of trends and common themes in stories.  Dreamwood is undoubtedly an environmental tale–one that speaks to the spirit of nature and the natural world and how it can be alien to human desires and progress.  In the world of Dreamwood that natural world is able to take revenge on the humans that trespass and destroy what they shouldn’t.  Which brings me to one of the oddest trends for 2014. Carnivorous trees.  Well, maybe not a full on trend, but two books in one year with people eating trees? I read this a few days after The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier, and all I can tell you is it’s reinforced my wariness around creepy vegetation.  For more on dangerous plants, check out my Tuesday Ten list: Dangerous Vegetation.

Heather Mackey’s debut novel is a strong middle grade adventure for those readers who don’t mind bloodthirsty flora and fauna and enjoy a good quest adventure.  It’s a strong offering from this author and I hope to see more from her in the future.

Reading recs for those who like Dreamwood:

  • Jinx by Sage Blackwood (HarperCollins, 2013)
  • The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier (Amulet Books, expected publication: May 2014)
  • The Lost Kingdom by  Matthew J. Kirby (Scholastic, 2013)

Note: An advanced reader copy was provided by the publisher.

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile

Expected Publication Date: June 2014

ISBN13:     9780399250675

Recommended for ages 9-14

About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on April 4, 2014, in General Posts, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hi Stephanie, thanks so much. Really enjoyed your review! And your Dangerous Vegetation list has given me so many titles to check out. There’s a lot of scare potential in the plant world 🙂

  1. Pingback: Starred review and other Dreamwood news

  2. Pingback: A Tuesday Ten: Speculative Environmentals | Views From the Tesseract

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