Dreamwood by Heather Mackey is a quest and a tale of discovery. Lucy Darrington is stuck in a strict boarding school when she gets a letter from her father saying he is on the edge of his greatest discovery yet. Determined to help him with his work as a ghostologist, she runs away from the school only to find that he has disappeared into the Dreamwood. Worse, the forests of the Pacific Northwest are dying, suffering from Rust, and no one knows what to do about it except, perhaps, Lucy’s father. Although she is warned that no one ever returns from the Dreamwood, she sets out to find her father accompanied by Pete, a boy from the settlement who wants to find the powerful wood the place is named for and help his family regain their home.
Although Mackey never spells things out fully, it’s clear thatDreamwood is set in an alternate America some time after the Civil War. This America a place where ghosts and nature spirits exist and where ghostologists are hired to get rid of the spooks, and a place where Native Americans still hold a good chunk of the land. The Settlers, although they believe in ghosts, are inclined to scoff at the idea of nature spirits. Lucy’s task is to go into the Dreamwood a place that may be dominated by an angry nature spirit determined to destroy people. First, however, she has to be persuaded to believe that such a thing exists.
Lucy is a stubborn, opinionated main character who loves her father and is determined to find him. MacKey’s descriptions build the Dreamwood as a terrifying and beautiful place, one that will turn people’s dreams, both their nighttime dreams and their daytime desires, against them. The friendship cum proto-romance between Pete and Lucy is well-handled, with their skills complementing each other. There are other memorable characters in here as well, particularly the toy maker Lucy meets early on.
The villain, unfortunately, proves to be a fairly one-dimensional sort. It is also unfortunate that Mackey, after setting up the Lupine people as proud and powerful in their own right and introducing a new Lupine friend for Lucy and Pete, chooses to leave the Lupine girl out of the quest. She enables Pete and Lucy to go on their quest and stays home herself. Leaving the Native American equivalent out of an encounter with a spirit she knows better than any settler is a misstep.
Overall, however, the book is a solid alternate-history, fantasy tale with a strong female lead, one who has both faults and virtues and who tumbles over both in her quest to find her father.
Recommended for readers who enjoy middle-grade fantasy with a bit of spookiness.
Dreamwood is available now.
Published: June 12th 2014
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
ISBN 0399250670 (ISBN13: 9780399250675)