WHILE COLIN MELOY'S first foray into YA authorship could've neatly tied up with 2011's Wildwood, the series makes a welcome return in the sequel Under Wildwood. It's an even more enjoyable outing into a fantasy Portland filled with talking animals, vast forests, and armies of avenging fauna. Like its predecessor, Under Wildwood's full of Decemberists vocab lessons (Cock-up! Seditious! Slurry!) and precious Portlandese (Pickling! Cork flooring! Terrariums!), but it's got decidedly more zip.
The numerous story threads are all stronger and more engaging than the first venture into the Narnia-tinged land. Wildwood is going through a period of severe unrest, with revolutionaries and coups making life difficult for the denizens. As one kid says, "Grown-ups. They've got the run of a magical kingdom and they still manage to always mess things up." Prue, the smarty preteen protagonist, is back in North Portland and missing her best friend, Curtis, who stayed behind as a bandit-in-training. Meanwhile Curtis' two sisters are being fostered at a Dickensian orphanage/factory, where a washed-up glamourpuss and her Ricky Gervais-esque boyfriend oversee the grim operation.
There's a lot going on in Under Wildwood, but it's all the better for it—where Wildwood got a bit sloggy, Meloy's second book slowly builds momentum that reaches a steady clip. Carson Ellis' lovely illustrations bring life and beauty to the story, particularly crisp when she depicts the former movie star and the adorable mole army, who are outfitted in bottle-cap armor and real-world flotsam. We'll be getting at least one more book in the series to tie up Under Wildwood's loose threads—the sooner the better, I say.