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Northwood

Review

Northwood

written by Brian Falkner, illustrated by Donovan Bixley
North of the town where Cecilia Undergarment lives with her parents and her housekeeper, Jana, is a dark, mysterious and dangerous forest, Northwood. Northwood is full of frightening tarblood trees and fierce black lions, and legend says that no one who has ventured in has ever come back out. But, when Cecilia finds herself in the heart of that forest, she understands she must plan for her escape and survival. NORTHWOOD, the latest novel by Brian Falkner, follows Cecilia on the adventure of a lifetime as she talks to animals, soars in a great mechanical balloon, finds a hidden kingdom and rescues new friends.
 
It all starts when Cecilia, who has a knack for understanding animal language, hears the distressed cries of a starving dog next door. The dog is owned by the once friendly and now terrible Mr. Proctor, who seems to take joy in abusing Rocky, the dog his wife and daughter left behind when they disappeared. Along with Jana, Cecilia hatches a plan to save Rocky by using the balloons her father’s company manufactures. Everything goes well until Mr. Proctor comes over to demand she return the dog and ends up ramming the Undergarments’ balloon-shaped house with a bulldozer, thus causing the attic room where Cecilia and Rocky are hiding to disconnect and fly free. This would be a good thing, except that the balloon-attic eventually comes to rest in a tree deep in Northwood, and Cecilia and Rocky not only face a maze of tarblood trees, but also the hungry lions that live there.  Stumbling upon an old fortress, Cecilia realizes that there are many more secrets to Northwood than she ever imagined.
 
NORTHWOOD is a fun and unique adventure with a smart heroine and creative setting.
 
The fortress protects an ancient castle where about 40 people live under the rule of King Harry. They are all people that had wandered into Northwood and found it impossible to leave. They have worked together for years, gathering and harvesting food, trying to survive, and dreaming about the world beyond the forest. They had all but given up hope of ever leaving until Cecilia’s arrival. Her plans to bring them all back to the outside world are thwarted by the cruel king time and again. However, when Cecilia and some new friends begin to look closer for means to escape, they begin to uncover horrible truths about the castle, the king and their life in Northwood.
 
NORTHWOOD is a fun and unique adventure with a smart heroine and creative setting. The pace is brisk and some of the details Falkner includes (the balloon house, for instance) are really fun. Falkner did seem unable to commit to writing a fantasy novel, opting instead to insert some magic-like elements into the story. Some ideas are never fully explained, like what an ancient castle and fortress are doing hidden just outside the town, why Jana is a more important figure to Cecilia than her parents are and how the people of Northwood never managed to escape the forest after so many years.  Young readers will be able to overlook these inconsistencies and problems because the story is, overall, entertaining and well-written. Falkner is clearly an author full of great ideas and if this is not his best book it is still a great one. The illustrations by Donovan Bixley are fantastic.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on May 13, 2014

Northwood
written by Brian Falkner, illustrated by Donovan Bixley