The Wretched of Muirwood is a young adult fantasy novel designed to be a thrilling, interesting, and dynamic novel. Without too much summary, the story follows young Lia, a girl that is a “wretched”; essentially a slave. There are other classes as well, such as “learners”, but these prove to be almost irrelevant in the first half of the book. However, unlike other “wretched”, Lia has the ability to use “The Medium”, a spiritual force that allows her to control the environment around her. Early in the novel, Lia harbors a sickly young man (Colvin) hiding from his totalitarian kingdom, and for the rest of the novel (so far), it follows Lia’s adventures protecting and serving the knight.
The one thing that constantly bothered me while reading was the thought of the potential that this book could have had. Wheeler’s style of writing is mediocre, at times simplistic, at others overcomplicated during reading. I noticed in the novel that it tends to take a long time and an excessive amount of words for Wheeler to get his point across, to the point where it becomes downright confusing to read. Because of this, the first half of the novel seems like one, long drawn -out introduction. Plot development is practically non-existent for most of the first half, for the most part plateauing after Lia discovers a way how to efficiently hide the knight. One scene particularly stood out to me while reading this book. After a couple days of housing the knight inside of Lia’s kitchen, word gets around that the kingdom is sending troops on the lookout for the lost night. Eventually, these soldiers do arrive, and after a rather tidy, short search, they promptly leave. To me, this scene seemed very forced, as if Wheeler was trying to implement some sort of suspense into a sea of monotony. After some sloppy questioning, the soldiers leave… and that was it! There was absolutely no development at all for this strange group, which left me confused as obviously this is designed to be a suspenseful and tense section of the novel.
This leads me into my next section, character. Wheeler does a fine job of describing and creating the characters in this novel. Lia, as the main protagonist, is very well developed. I appreciate how the author begins the novel, saying “Lia lived in the Aldermaston’s kitchen at the Muirwood Abbey. More than anything else, she craved learning to read. But she had no family to afford such a privilege…because she was a wretched”(Wheeler 1). As I look back upon my reading, I appreciate Wheeler’s direct, straight-forward explanation of Lia’s character, which definitely allowed me to delve deeper into the novels plot when needed. Unfortunately, Colvin and other smaller characters (most notably Lia’s friend Sowe) are left completely undeveloped, at time distracting me from the reading as I focus on interpreting their character and actions. Lia’s character can be paralleled to Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, how she defends and protects her values, even against the feelings of the community around her. Lia demonstrates her opposition to the community by harboring a knight seeking shelter and safety, an act that is consistently frowned upon by many in her tight-knit community. Scout similarly opposes the racism in her community against African Americans, the opposite being commonly found in the community of Maycomb.
One of the weakest points in Wheeler’s writing is his failure to evoke emotion within his audiences. For me, experiencing the same emotions and feelings as a character in a novel is an pleasure when reading, and I find that this book simply doesn’t satisfy that need. A good example of this would be on page 79, when the sheriff of the kingdom is threatening and intimidating Lia in order to get answers. When beginning the chapter, I was excited to see what was going to happen next, as the whole scene played out in my head. A dark night, an evil sheriff, and a cowering young girl fearing for her life. Many times, the sheriffs threats were good, but one piece of dialogue spoiled the whole scene for me. “[Sheriff to Lia] I would have never dreamed of it possible that one of them would leave a wretched behind….Your face…your sweet face. It is staring at me past the brink of death. Child, you are special. Are you not curious to know how you were abandoned. The shame of it!”( Wheeler 79). Wheeler’s purpose is clear; to create a feeling of eery suspense and intimidation to excite the reader. But somehow this dialogue seemed out of place, a line more from an animated children’s film than a young adult novel. Especially in the last three sentences, the careless attitude that the sheriff presents makes the scene seem less powerful and impactful. Like a children’s movie, the action and violence is simplified and almost sugar-coated as if suited for young eyes and ears.
So far, I have enjoyed the books in some respects. The detail that Wheeler creates certainly is interesting, but I would have enjoyed it much more if Wheeler moved the story along. It seems like the plot is stationary…fixed in place. I would not recommend this to anyone who is looking for a thrilling read, the book is simply to slow and distracting. Hopefully, the next half will offer something better.