Forest of Wonders
Linda Sue Park
HarperCollins, 2016 343 pgs
Wing & Claw Trilogy #1
Raffa lives with his parents in a small village. He is gifted in the ways of mixing potions and his apothecary parents are guiding him in learning the art. Raffa's uncle, also an apothecary, takes advantage of a job opportunity working in the nearby city for the government, taking Raffa's cousin and best friend away with him. After finding a legendary vine in the titled "Forest of Wonders" Raffa concocts a potion that heals a bat and allows him the gift of human speech. The vine is a miracle worker, but, as Raffa soon discovers, is also dangerous. Raffa travels to the city to warn his cousin, who took a cutting from the vine, of the potential dangers. Raffa must trick the ferry man using his apothecary magic to take him across the river and to the big city. Once in the city Raffa is lost. An unfortunate incident lands him in jail, but allows him to make two new friends. One of the new friends, Kuma, has a bear who she can communicate with, much like Raffa's bat Echo, and together the two new friends enter the uncle's home. Uncle is living a posh life in the city. His main task seems to be to develop potions used to train animals to do human's bidding. The tasks seem harmless until Raffa and Kuma discover the real motivation behind the government project. Meanwhile, Raffa's cousin has always been jealous of his apothecaric abilities. Can the cousin be trusted? Raffa and Kuma must protect their animal friends and sift through what they learn in order to discover the truth behind the animal training project, which will involve some dangerous and difficult decisions, including determining who to trust.
Newbery winner, Linda Sue Park, turns to the world of fantasy in this new trilogy for middle readers. The book starts with a map of the land of Obsidia, which children will enjoy pouring over, that reveals to readers that this book is set in a magical world where anything is possible. Raffa has an almost magical gift for mixing potions and it is cool when he is drawn to the vine, heals and befriends the bat, and then Echo begins to speak. From there the book becomes a quest to find his uncle and cousin in the city and overcoming the dangers and obstacles along the way. Once safely ensconced in his uncle's home the book changes again as we suspect their is more to the animal training than meets the eye. The mystery surrounding the animals and who is behind the scheme is revealed, but a cliff hanger of an ending keeps the reader guessing as to how the evil doers will be stopped. The magic in the story comes from the potions created, resulting in animal/human communication. This book has an involved plot with some surprises that will fully engage young intelligent readers. The length of the book is decent and the chapters end at a comfortable interval. Kids ready for more involved fantasy, yet not ready for the seriously heavy stuff, will find this an enjoyable and engaging read. Raffa is talented and smarter than both his contemporaries and adults alike, yet remains humble and always moralistic. He faces tough choices, yet always seems to make the ethical decision. The "Forest of Wonders" in the title does not seem to be very magical. It serves only as a host to the vine with magical properties. Does the forest hold more magic? perhaps that will be revealed in the next series installment.