The descent into madness is front and center in K. Ancrum’s THE WICKER KING!
August and Jack are best friends, but their friendship is anything but typical. At school, August is a small-time drug dealer and misfit, Jack is a star rugby player and a pretty boy, and they don’t really acknowledge each other. Away from school, they can barely manage without one another. August is the primary caretaker of an ill mother and Jack’s parents are the wealthy types who travel incessantly while ignoring their child. So instead, they raise each other and find their own adventures.
When Jack begins to see another world over his own, August will do anything to help Jack and keep them from being split up– even indulge in Jack’s fantasy that he is “The Wicker King”, August is his loyal knight, and together, they must find a way to stop a rival king from destroying them. As Jack’s life spirals out of control, August goes down the rabbit hole of delusion with him in a desperate attempt to save him. But as the delusions begin to make more sense, the battle in Jack’s otherworld requires more risks, and their secret quest starts to gather attention, can either boy make it out unscathed?
The Wicker King is more a character study and psychological thriller than a horror, but it certainly gives some chills along the way. I was constantly left questioning whether Jack’s world was an illusion of the mind or truly something beyond our own. It’s tense, it’s mysterious, but it’s still something that people who are averse to full-on horror can still enjoy.
What sets this book apart from most others is its style. To start, the chapters are all vignettes– Most are only a page long and the longest was probably four pages. It makes the book super digestible and a quick read, because you can read in any spare moment without feeling like you’re interrupting the story’s flow. It can actually be read in short bursts! Also, there’s some great graphic design. We see a few documents, mixtapes, and photos, but also, as the story gets darker, that foreboding sense of gloom and doom infiltrates the pages themselves.
This book did have one major sticking point for me: The relationships. Interesting as Jack and August’s trajectory can be, it’s so very messed up. They have a fierce chemistry and you want to root for them, you want their relationship to go to another level. But then logic kicks in and you remember that they’re woefully, dangerously codependent, that one is delusional and the other is enabling him. August never doubt Jack’s visions, gives into anything, and doesn’t have a mind of its own. It makes him a compelling narrator, but certainly not a likable one. Of course, in order for this story to be pulled off, the two also have absentee parents who don’t care about their kids’ lives and friends who are willing to ignore almost everything. There are a few characters who express some concern, but don’t have the initiative to do much beyond that even after they realize that August’s stance on Jack’s condition is compromised. There are other relationships in the story, including some sexually charged ones that make this one inappropriate for younger YA readers, but none of them are nearly as heated as August and Jack. The story tiptoes around a polyamorous relationship that was interesting, but the story never fully commits.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The author has recently talked about some changes made to the story’s ending since the ARC release that ease my trepidation, so your reading experience might be totally different in this sense.
While I enjoyed the stark pseudo-contemporary nature of the story (it’s set in 2002-2003), I would have liked so see more description of what Jack was seeing. We don’t get much worldbuilding when it comes to Jack’s “otherworld” or how it functions, just a vague sense of how he interacts between two layered worlds and the main story line within this unseen world that’s causing him distress. Perhaps some chapters from Jack’s point-of-view would have been helpful for this. There’s such a rich worldbuilding opportunity there and it felt like the novel only took it halfway.
Overall, The Wicker King has some unique, compelling elements but didn’t gripping me with horror and didn’t push for clarity in its story or relationships. However, other reviewers seem to be more excited by this title than I was, so don’t discount it on my word alone.
RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 STARS
The Wicker King is out just in time for Halloween tomorrow, October 31, 2017. You can pre-order it now via Amazon!
The Wicker King is a psychological young adult thriller that follows two friends struggling as one spirals into madness.
When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.
August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.