The Wicker King follows two boys, August and Jack who have been friends since they were little and are like brothers. They also both come from neglectful, dysfunctional family. August has to sell drugs for money because his sole caretaker, his mother, has pretty much given up on life and August needs the money he earns to take care of her. And Jacks parents, who travel extensively for work, leave him alone for weeks at a time.
When younger, they often created games where Jack played the role of the benevolent king with August being the faithful knight or champion.
So as the novel progresses, we learn that Jack begins experiencing hallucinations from an alternate reality – similar to the games they used to play – that is blending in with everyday life. August knows that Jack needs some sort of help but feeling that he owes a life debt to Jack, decides instead to stick by Jack’s side, keep the hallucinations a secret, and accept the visions as reality.
Jack is confident that once he fulfills a sort of a quest, the hallucinations he’s experiencing will disappear for good. So August plays along, even putting his life in danger as Jack draws him more and more into his fantasy world, straddling the world between reality and madness. August willingly follows Jack, though he himself sees no otherworldly elements himself. As the novel progresses, Jack and August alienate themselves from everyone around them: parents, friends, and teachers as Jack’s visions become the primary focus of their existence.
Now as a reader, we can’t help but wonder whether Jack is actually, in fact, experiencing an alternate reality of some kind, as his instance that what he’s seeing is real become increasingly convincing. So as I read along, I began to wonder whether this book is going to turn into a YA fantasy novel. I liked the fact that I knew nothing going into this book, so it was a fun journey as I didn’t know where this novel was going to take me.
Now I don’t want to get too spoilery here, but I will say that things get a whole hell of a lot worse for our heroes before they get better, and this book does deal with a lot of intense, hard-hitting subjects such as child neglect, toxic codependent relationships, and mental illness.
What I Liked
I’m glad that I got the physical copy of this book as it’s cool how the pages are initially white but has Jack descends further and further into is fantasy – or perhaps madness — the splotches of black intrude more and more on the page until finally, the pages are completely back with white print which I thought was a brilliant device and an excellent metaphor for the direction in which the novel was heading.
Additionally, there are numerous drawings, doodles, photocopies of arrest records, copies of detention slips, newspaper clippings, school suspension forms, medical records and still frame photographs which really add to the story.
I’m not sure how all this would translate to an ebook, as that format doesn’t always work with a lot of different multimedia and images in a book.
There aren’t any full-on chapters; instead, we get a page or a page and a half of snippets for which we piece together with the story. Now I don’t mean to say that the format is confusing. It’s not. In fact, not only do the snippets and multimedia do a great job of portraying the events in Jack and August’s lives, but they also succeed in setting the tone of the novel, and I really enjoyed this type of storytelling. Taking together the short vignettes along with the multimedia, we can easily figure out what’s going it as the story unfolds. If I’m not mistaken, I think this format is called “Micro Fiction.”
Oh, it’s worth mentioning that the entire story is told from August’s point of view because no doubt of the two, he’s a more reliable narrator. However, the extra multimedia snippets gave the reader a separate point of view for the various events we read about, which helped to fill in the gaps.
Another thing that I liked about this story was that it wasn’t just the difficult subjects, the complicated relationships, and the intricately woven narrative that made this book great – it’s the characters. Jack and August are vivid and wonderfully rendered — and these people really came to life for me – in all their complexity, cluelessness, willful blindness, and, ultimately, human realism. Oh, so many terrible decisions were made — but that’s what rendered them all the more human and all the more real.
What I also liked about this novel is the lack of a clad-tight, simple, happy ending. With the way these two characters were developed, it would have not only been unreal for them to skip off into the sunset, it would have been a disservice to all Jack and August had been through, dealt with, and accomplished. That being said, the story did end with a satisfying conclusion that felt perfect to me.
What I Didn’t Like
There’s not too much I didn’t like about this book except for the fact that it will hurt your heart in places — but that’s the purpose of this book, I think. I don’t think it was intended to evoke positive emotions of unbridled joy, so the dark subject matter may not be for everyone. There are plenty of triggers in this book so sensitive readers be warned. This is the kind of book that will break you in places.
Initially, the short snippets and the sometimes non-linear storytelling felt a bit disjointed to me, and it took a bit of getting used to. But once I got the hang of it, it was fine and had no problems immersing myself in the story.
Also, though the character of Jack and August were extremely and meticulously well-developed, we are only given bits and pieces about the other characters in the book. I wouldn’t have minded knowing a bit more about the Roger and Peter, the twins who repeatedly offered their assistance (though it was never accepted), Gordie and Rina.
Though this was an eerie and haunting read that was at times disturbing and cringe-worthy, it is also poignant and beautiful, and is very much also about friendship and unconditional love. It was one of those addicting reads that I just couldn’t put down. It was dark, weird, looming, heart-wrenching and utterly bewitching — I loved every single moment of it. I’m so happy that I came across The Wicker King and I ended up giving it book 5 stars.
By the way, there’s an accompanying novella to this story entitled “The Legend of the Golden Raven: A Novella of the Wicker King” which I just picked up but haven’t had the opportunity to read yet. I’m looking forward to it. Just to let you know.
This review was transcribed from the video review on my YouTube channel “Roger’s Reads”
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