Forest of Wonders (Wing & Claw Book 1), by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by James Madsen
published in 2016 by HarperCollins
Raffa, age 12, is the son of two apothecaries who live in a quiet settlement near the mysterious Forest of Wonders.
Though young, Raffa has already demonstrated an uncanny knack for mixing up effective tinctures, infusions, and poultices purchased by villagers. He has acquired a great store of knowledge about the marvelous botanicals growing in the Forest, and how to make use of their powerful healing properties.
One day, Raffa is startled by the literal dropping-in-to-his-life of a little bat. A grievously injured bat. In the process of mending its shredded wings and broken bones, Raffa collects and uses a scarlet vine, an ancient remedy known to his grandmother as a particularly potent agent of healing. And yes, the bat’s wounds heal nicely. But that vine possesses far stranger powers than anyone would suspect. And now some of that vine has gone AWOL.
To prevent the vine from harming others — human and animal — Raffa ventures off to the capital city, Gilden, an overwhelming and menacing place for a country bumpkin. There he encounters a heap of troubles, meets some unusual compatriots, and learns of a sinister plot underway courtesy of the Chancellor of Obsidia.
I do not pick up a lot of fantasy literature, partially because I am cowed by the length of most of the series — often 3 to 5 thick volumes long. With all the titles on my want-to-read list, I usually cannot bear to begin those formidable sets!
Linda Sue Park
However. This one has Linda Sue Park’s name on it, and when I see her name on a book, I grab it. And I’m never sorry.
I loved this book. As we’ve come to expect from Linda, the plot, pacing, setting, dialogue, are perfect. And the characters! Incredibly engaging. By the end of this volume, you’ll have grown to love smart, tenderhearted, conscientious Raffa and his seriously-intrepid band of friends. You’ll also meet Echo — the most endearing little bat on the planet — and several other animals who will steal your heart.
See how cute a bat can be?!
If my kids were 10 again, they would absolutely lovelovelove this book.
One of the charms of the story is its focus on the wild plants in the Forest of Wonders and their extraordinary powers of healing. I felt like I was back in Pomona Sprout’s laboratory at Hogwarts, chopping and blending roots and shoots to magical effect! The fact is, our forests are filled with plant life imbued with medicinal potential, and the awe we feel reading about the Forest of Wonders would be well-cultivated for the amazing, often-threatened, vegetation around us.
Apart from being a magnificent adventure, the story raises thought-provoking questions about civil disobedience, the wise use of environmental resources, the potential for adverse consequences to scientific advances, the ethics of using the ends to justify the means. It’s a thrilling story in which success hangs on tremendously difficult choices, and on friends who trust one another and do not betray that trust.
Grab this for kids ages 9 and up. The only problem is the cliff-hanger ending! No idea when Book Two will release. (330 pages)