Review: Down the Mysterly River by Bill Willingham

Down the Mysterly River
by Bill Willingham, Illustrated by Mark Buckingham

ISBN-13: 9-780765-327925
Publication: September 13, 2011 from Starscape (Tor)
Rating: 3.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it

Max “the Wolf” is a top notch Boy Scout, an expert at orienteering and a master of being prepared. So it is a little odd that he suddenly finds himself, with no recollection of his immediate past, lost in an unfamiliar wood. Even odder still, he encounters a badger named Banderbrock, a black bear named Walden, and McTavish the Monster (who might also be an old barn cat) — all of whom talk — and who are as clueless as Max.

Before long, Max and his friends are on the run from a relentless group of hunters and their deadly hounds. Armed with powerful blue swords and known as the Blue Cutters, these hunters capture and change the very essence of their prey. For what purpose, Max can’t guess. But unless he can solve the mystery of the strange forested world he’s landed in, Max may find himself and his friends changed beyond recognition, lost in a lost world…

I quite liked this middle grade story from Bill Willingham. Max the Wolf (who is not so much a wolf as a 13 year old boy scout) suddenly find himself in a large forest, with no memory of how he arrived there. Indeed, he has no memories outside of those that involve mysteries he solved in the past. He quickly encounters a few companions in the form of talking animals (another clue he is someone strange) and they begin a journey to find out why they have arrived in this forest, at all times avoiding the Blue Cutters – humans with swords who cut any they come across, changing their nature completely.

Max is a great main character. He’s an intelligent 13 year old who knows how to stay calm and survive. He’s brave and strong, but still, he’s young and makes mistakes. Max learns quickly, though, and while he might not always make the right choice, things work out for him and he ultimately arrives at the right conclusion to his problem. Banderbrock the badger, the first companion that Max encounters is my favourite. He is the voice of reason that calms Max’s more impulsive actions, and an old soldier that will do anything to protect his friends. Banderbrock is the practical one. Walden and McTavish are also wonderfully developed characters, though I found them more secondary to Max and Banderbrock. It is ery easy to learn their characteristics and their voices.

The Blue Cutters confused me fr a little bit at first, but as the story continues and more details appear about their swords and their mission, I was able to understand what they do when they Cut someone. Bill Willingham manages to deal out the details to the mystery of “who” and “why” in this story very well. All the little details add up over the course of the book, and you not only have to pay close attention but not be afraid to use your imagination (especially with the Egg Man!). The world that is built around the forest and the river that runs through it (the Mysterly River, as it is dubbed) is very rich and detailed. There is a bit of violence in the story, including some death scenes, but I don’t think it’s anything anyone above grade 5 couldn’t handle.

The ending was a little quick to arrive, and it is very much an explanation ending – there is a lot of talking and explaining. However, it’s the kind of ending that is necessary in this type of book, where a mystery is being solved and someone holds all the answers to clarify things for our main character. So I enjoyed it. The end of the epilogue was a little confusing, though, and while I appreciated most of the details presented in it, some just seemed out of place. But, overall the book is very well written and developed, and leaves a lasting impression. Definitely a solid read.

ARC provided by Tor in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

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