Review: C.J.: The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

review         book

Book Covertitle: The Wicker King
author: K. Ancrum
pages: 320
format: Hardcover
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 3/5 (from hated to loved) or 6/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: Fans of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo, and other dark, atmospheric stories that blur fantasy and reality, truth and lines. // CW: Child neglect 
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.

in depth

  • Holy toxic friendship, Batman! Ancrum's debut is a twisted psychological thriller where love and destruction, reality and fantasy, blur into a dangerous maelstrom with devastating consequences. It's mental health rep is questionable--you have a kid whose hallucinations result in a deadly game--but I do think Ancrum treats her characters with empathy and care, producing complicated and imperfect people rather than villainous caricatures. Personally, I wasn't bothered, but it's worth noting. 

  • (The part that concerns me more is the psychiatric hospital, because they're mostly not really like that. However, Ancrum ties it all up with an author's note addressing the mental health and child abuse issues, and I think it goes a long way toward addressing the more problematic aspects. But I'll be curious to see what others think. I'll also note that it's on some LGBT shelves, but August's and Jack's identities are never explicitly stated.) 

  • The book hinges on August and Jack's friendship. They're close in a way that's part brotherly, part lover, sometimes heartwarming and sometimes concerning. It's a codependent borderline relationship that is miles beyond unhealthy, bordering on abusive. The adults in their lives are ineffectual, indifferent. It's other teens who recognize the danger and function as voices of reason. The wrap-up wasn't satisfying from a "we learned this is bad" perspective, but personally the lack of closure didn't bother me. I tend to like a good dark ending. 

  • Whether you like the plot or not, Ancrum's style is an omen of big things. She uses short, punchy, episodic chapters with evocative titles to unbalance the reader and create an experience as fractured as Jack's hallucinatory reality. August's pyromania gets disappointing short shrift, but in both words and drawings, we get an ominous taste of Jack's fantasy world. The concept of him as king, August as his knight, has an Arthurian quality with a dark edge that's both nostalgic and highly unsettling. I only wish Ancrum had made it more unclear whether the Wicker King's world is real or not; the reveal feels too obvious. 

  • While The Wicker King left me wanting more in several key areas, it was definitely a quick, strange, enjoyable little read that left a lingering sense of unease. Which, incidentally, is a good thing. I didn't love it, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. 

in a sentence

The Wicker King is an uneven debut that short-changes some of its coolest elements, but does deliver on the promise of atmospheric, unsettling psychological horror. 


will i read this author again?  Yeah, her writing is solid enough that I'd like to see where else she goes 
will i continue the series?  N/A I think? 

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

1 comment:

  1. Hahah I agree with all of this! I picked this up on a whim, and was surprised at how dark it was (I guess I should have expected it, oh well). It was definitely an interesting read, and not something in my comfort zone :P Great review CJ!