Down The Mysterly River by Bill Willingham opens with intrepid boy detective Max ‘the Wolf’ awakening in the woods with no memory of how he got there. As he is in boy scout uniform, Max assumes he got lost on a scouting trip. He must reexamine this theory when he happens upon some talking animals in this middle grade fantasy novel.
Y’all I love animals that talk. Joining Max for his journey are three talking animals: Banderbrock the warrior badger, Walden the sheriff bear, and MacTavish the monster barn cat. The motley crew are on the run from these villains called cutters who can take away your individual characteristics and mold you with the swipe of their blue swords, as they all try to discover the reason they are in a strange wood and far from home.
Down The Mysterly River is a creative middle grade fantasy debut. The pages maintain a sense of wonder that I think ought to be requisite for a children’s fantasy novel and had me thinking this is what children’s fantasy ought to be. The illustrations by Mark Buckingham inside Down The Mysterly River hearken back to the Hardy Boys and The Wind In The Willows, adding in a sense of childhood nostalgia for grown readers.
I felt Down The Mysterly River had great values for younger readers. Bill Willingham weaves a tale of courage, loyalty, and friendship. Readers see main character Max ‘The Wolf’ doing the right thing instead of the easy thing.
I think where Willingham truly excels is in his characterization. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the animal characters, however perhaps I am partial to them because of Redwall. I loved sweet Walden who didn’t believe in himself, yet clearly has value. Banderbrock was also beloved because he put himself in danger for his friends. I love that sort of camaraderie. I think my favorite was MacTavish because he was ornery and had it down to an art. Plus everything that came out of MacTavish’s mouth was comedy gold.
Yet, I think the sum of Down The Mysterly River is greater than it’s parts. Bill Willingham knows how to weave a story that will have you laughing and cheering for the characters, feeling ultimately satisfied after closing the book. The ending is utterly beautiful and I pretty much love the last line. Overall this book is recommended for fans of Redwall, The Yearling, or The Hardy Boys.
Disclosure: Received for review.