What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine published in 2018.
“Cursed. Maisie Cothay has never known the feel of human flesh: born with the power to kill or resurrect at her slightest touch, she has spent her childhood sequestered in her family’s manor at the edge of a mysterious forest. Maisie’s father, an anthropologist who sees her as more experiment than daughter, has warned Maisie not to venture into the wood. Locals talk of men disappearing within, emerging with addled minds and strange stories. What he does not tell Maisie is that for over a millennium her female ancestors have also vanished into the wood, never to emerge—for she is descended from a long line of cursed women. But one day Maisie’s father disappears, and Maisie must venture beyond the walls of her carefully constructed life to find him. Away from her home and the wood for the very first time, she encounters a strange world filled with wonder and deception. Yet the further she strays, the more the wood calls her home.”
I don’t typically read fantasy novels, so I took a chance with one, and I believe it paid off.
In What Should Be Wild the reader follows a sixteen-year-old girl named Maisie who lives on the Urizon property with her father Peter. She carries the legacy of the Blakely family, made up of women who had gone missing in the forest outside of the same house she lives in. In fact, six of the Blakely women are trapped in a neighbouring dimension of the same forest around Maisie. Oh yeah, did I also mention that any living thing Maisie touches dies, and any dead thing she touches is resurrected? That’s why her father kept her sequestered in the house her whole life, so when Peter goes missing, she and a young boy she barely knows goes out looking for him. What could go wrong? Well, a man might kidnap her and try and drain her of all her blood so he can open the gate to the other world in the forest, that’s what could go wrong. Throughout this journey, Maisie grows as a young woman and gains new experiences that she was denied her whole life.
Such an important aspect of a book is the opening line—it grabs the reader’s attention and tempts them deeper into the story. The first line of this book does just that when it states,
“They grew me inside my mother, which was unusual, because she was dead.”
This sentence doesn’t only shock the reader, but slightly confuses them as well. Yet it’s the perfect quantity of confusion, the amount that pushes you to continue and find out more to alleviate this confusion. Actually, most of the book was like this for me, so the first line set a good example of how I felt throughout the entire thing. I’ll talk more about this later.
The narration changes from chapter to chapter, switching from Maisie’s first-person point of view to a third person omniscient view of the women in the woods. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing both perspectives and even more the connection between both worlds. For example, when Maisie brought a dead bird back to life, the women saw the same bird limping around in their forest. This is just one of many of the links between Maisie and her ancestors. These chapters were also very short and sweet, which I loved.
Speaking of the six Blakely women, I appreciated all of their diverse personalities and how their era affected their behaviour. They ranged from a rejected five-year-old children with a large birthmark plastered on the side of her face to a promiscuous woman who shamed her family by sleeping with her brother. Another character that peaked my interest was Peter. Peter, in my opinion, has the perfect structure for a character development. He begins has an indifferent father who views his daughter as more of a case study than kin. Yet as the story progresses we learn that his situation is more complex, with the death of his wife and unexpected child that he was forced to raise by himself. We learn about his immense love for Maisie, and how raising her had actually made him a better person. It all comes together when he makes the ultimate sacrifice that the parent archetype is destined to make. This moment brought actual tears to my eyes.
When it came to the storyline as a whole, as I mentioned before, I was mainly driven by confusion. The numerous amount of times I shook my head, completely befuddled by everything that was happening was rather exhausting. Now, I will say this might be due to my lack of experience in the fantasy genre; I’m not exactly familiar with the format of it all. But I just had so many questions floating around my brain while in the midst of it all. I’m not saying this is a bad thing since this is what kept me reading; so I could find answers to these questions. And for the most part, these questions were answered near the very end. Yet something that irked me is that the whole concept of the “mystic forest” was still rather vague. I can acknowledge the beauty and significance of the woods holding the darker side of Maisie, which is why she was being drawn towards it. Yet one question still lingered heavy in my mind; Why did Rafe want to enter the woods so desperately?
For the most part, though, everything was explained fairly well and all ends were tied together quite neatly. Everything was connected and simple notions proved to be more symbolic than previously imagined (and you know I love me some symbolism). This is definitely a book that I would enjoy rereading so I could pinpoint the moments that confused me on the first read.
This was a solid fairytale with hints of romance and action. It covers themes of loneliness and hopelessness as well as paints a beautiful coming of age story that anyone can relate to. Fine has a way of stringing words together in a majestic way that almost hypnotizes the reader further into her magnificent world. I was astonished by her ability to conjure up colourful images and witty dialogue, and overall very intrigued by the sinister yet inspiring narrative. I would recommend this book to people who aren’t particularly familiar with fantasy novels as a fine introduction to this genre. (Get it? Fine? Like Julia Fine? Nevermind). So if you’re interested in jumping into a modern fairytale, go pick up a copy of What Should Be Wild.