I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions remain my own.
The Wandering Land by Jamie Killen
The Maze House. The Fox Woman’s Garden. The Caverns of the Queen. These are the things that await you in the wandering land.
On a summer night in a sunbaked desert city, the wandering land appears. A fairytale village nestled in dense forest, it is a place of ruined castles, abandoned treasures, and strange creatures living in the shadows. Brought together by this impossible place are five visitors: failed painter Eli; art professor Amal; young lovers Darcy and Wes; and mysterious, haunted Coyote. Together they explore their own secret village, an entire world hidden in plain sight.
But there is darkness beneath the magic, a force pulling the visitors deeper and deeper into the place’s mysteries. As the boundaries between the secret land and the outside world begin to collapse, each of the visitors is confronted with visions of an otherworldly child, a child whose existence holds the key to understanding everything about the place that has drawn them together.
Who is this child? Why did she choose them? And will she ever let them go?
I love a good, creepy story. My idea of great horror is something that takes the familiar and makes it slightly but definitely other, then taking the story and letting the otherness grow until the whole story is just horrifying. It doesn’t even have to have supernatural stuff in it – a creepy, suspenseful story is always immensely satisfying. One example would be We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I loved the book description on The Wandering Land, and I was really hoping the story was just as good.
I was right. Killen delivers a very satisfying story with a truly creepy payoff. The story starts with five different people who all discover a way into a hidden world. Each of the five is creative in a different way – an artist, a writer, a cartoonist, an editor, and a musician – and they discover that through their art they can create new and sometimes unsettling changes to this hidden world.
As they redesign the world, they are given tasks to complete, all at the direction of a hidden queen. The further they progress in their tasks, the more the world begins taking hold of their every day life as well. Soon it becomes almost impossible to separate the two. They have to dive deep to uncover the history of this wandering land if they are all going to be able to free themselves from its spell.
There was so much to enjoy about this book. First, I loved the concept of a hidden world that chooses its new residents. It’s set in Tuscon, and I think that’s a great place to imagine a portal to a hidden world. The desert is definitely a landscape where you feel like anything could happen.
But my favorite part of this book was the characters. While the story was great, well-imagined and original, the characters were the part that really made this story shine for me. I loved that the author was able to get such diverse group of characters without making it seem like she was just checking off boxes for the sake of diversity. Lovers Darcy and Wes work together on a comic, but they have to work hard to overcome the differences in their upbringing. Eli has a family to support but he can’t help feeling this connection to the wandering land that threatens to overshadow his responsibilities. Amal is a professor who has just moved in with her girlfriend. And Coyote has no family, only one friend, and lives only for her music. Each character has a compelling back story and a unique voice.
In short, I’m really glad I had a chance to read this one. I haven’t read any other books from this author, but I would definitely recommend this one.