When starting The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, I had expected a fairly standard middle-grade fantasy, but was completely amazed by this tale of friendship and loyalty interwoven with a mystery that challenges the protagonists to make incredibly difficult choices. The combination of great characters, wonderful relationships, a unique magical system, and a plot that kept me guessing with all of its many twists and turns until the very end compels me to recommend this book for any bright, adventurous tween or early teen and his/her parents. It is a good story to read together, and …. if you are as lucky as I have been with a thoughtful, book-loving daughter … it will give you plenty of material for philosophical discussions!!
Note: I received an advanced copy of THE SECRET OF DREADWILLOW CARSE from the publisher. Some things may have changed in the final version.
The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey
Published by Algonquin on April 19, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, MG
Page Length: 256 pages
How I got my copy: NetGalley
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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 Princess 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 trees 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.
- Aon and Princess Jeniah develop a touching friendship that withstands trials and challenges and leads both girls to act courageously and face terrible truths together. And they never once talk about boys!! It was very refreshing to have this relationship form between two girls, and it was essential to the plot development of the book. Bravo!!
- Jeniah also has a wonderful relationship with her mother! Too often, protagonists in middle-grade books are complete orphans surrounded by adults who don’t care about them or are actually the villains of the tale. In this case, Jeniah’s mother, the ruling Queen, has a complex but loving relationship with her daughter. Like all good parents, she agonizes over how to raise and educate her child – because the most important lessons cannot be taught directly – and how to prepare her to understand the titular secret.
- The plot is strong, twisting, and exciting. I often was sneaking time to read this book because of the compelling mystery of the Dreadwillow Carse.
- The magic system is unique and operates in a subtle way. And it’s a bit ironic. Jeniah longs to know that magic is real. When she learns that it is, she is faced with a hard ethical decision about the proper use of power.
- Occasionally, the two girls were not nearly as upset by circumstances as I’d expect 12-year-olds to be. When some secrets come out, I anticipated tears and rage before a more mature rising to meet the challenges developed. But other than this touch of Mary Sue Syndrome, I found both Jeniah and Aon to be engaging characters who enjoy going where adults have told them not to go ….
This is a great read for any young woman who likes adventures. It’s an exciting book about two friends who have each other’s backs and solve a mystery that has existed for centuries. In many ways, this book will probably operate on two levels, and adults may find different things to like about it than the young readers in their family. But that’s one of the most magical things about a good book!!!
Try it for yourself:
Have you read this one? What did you think? Are you excited for it if you haven’t gotten to it yet?
THE SECRET OF DREADWILLOW CARSE by BRIAN FARREY
© 2016, Barbara. All rights reserved.