ARC Review: Northwood - Brian Falkner
Northwood by Brian Falkner
Genre: Middle Grade, fantasy
Published on April 1, 2014
Published by Capstone Young Readers
Read From: 4.5.14 - 4.6.14
The dark forest of Northwood has never seen the likes of Cecilia Undergarment before. . . .
Cecilia Undergarment likes a challenge. So when she discovers a sad and neglected dog, she is determined to rescue him. No matter what. But her daring dog rescue lands her in deep trouble. Trouble in the form of being lost in the dark forest of Northwood. A forest where ferocious black lions roam. A forest that hides a secret castle, an unlikely king and many a mystery. A forest where those who enter never return. But Cecilia is determined to find her way home. No matter what.
Cover Blurb: Yes or No? The cover art is very charming – as are the illustrations inside. But I wish the story itself had been as charming as the cover art.
Characters: To be quite honest, the characters of this novel left extremely fleeting impressions. They weren’t necessarily underdeveloped – there just wasn’t anything to set them apart from the myriad of plucky orphans and plucky twins and plucky girl heroines that populate Middle Grade fiction. Cecilia was brave and plucky and went after answers with satisfying determination. But the most I remember about her is her last name: Undergarment. Rocky the dog she rescues might have been more memorable, but his name is so incredibly common. I kept getting the twins mixed up, and King Harry was downright cartoonish. Not that I expect villains in Middle Grade novels to be as evil and intimidating as they are in Young Adult and Adult novels. But some effort can be made to at least make them somewhat bad.
The Romance: There isn’t any!
Plot: Cecilia Undergarment lives in a house made out of balloons. And when she goes on a rescue missing to save Rocky the dog from their mean and sinister neighbor, Cecilia and Rocky accidentally go floating off in one of these balloons and straight into Northwood – a scary, dark place where black lions and other unknown dangers lurk. But Cecilia discovers a surprising secret – that Northwood is not as deserted as people thought. The only problem is no one has ever been able to leave Northwood. But Cecilia is anything but determined. I didn’t have any issue with the plot itself, but more with the presentation. The Author tries to create a charming, but quirky, world, with funny character names, oddities in Northwood, and an omnipotent narrator who tells the Reader that adults say Cecilia’s story isn’t true – but they just might be wrong. I love “children’s whimsy,” but Northwood just fell short. I can’t quite put my finger on why. Maybe it was the characters – the names were common and boring and not quite ridiculous enough to be funny. And many of the characters had “isms” that didn’t work, either. Maybe it was the conclusion, but something just didn’t work. It fell short of Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, or any of the other “children’s whimsy” authors.
Believability: Not applicable.
Writing Style: Third person, past tense. There is a bit of an omnipotent narrator – the Author – and it’s a technique I have always enjoyed.
Conclusion: I had an issue with how easily the twists were revealed. Or, rather, how flimsy the “proof” was, but everyone was perfectly willing to accept it as 100% accurate. Paintings are not always the best evidence; sorry. Northwood could have been so much better, and it could have joined the ranks of famously good children’s whimsy books. But it just didn’t quite make it, in my opinion.
Recommended Audience: Girl-and-boy read, six-and-up.