The Wicker King by K. Ancrum
Publisher: Imprint, Macmillan (October 31st 2017)
Genre: YA; contemporary, fantasy, thriller
Rating: 5/5 🍑
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.
Things I loved about this:
» the characters. August & Jack are utterly lovable (and spoiler alert: in love) but also “problematique” by which I mean they both struggle with their mental health while not getting any help from adults around them. Their relationship was one of the most intense ones I have ever read about & there are no clean lines there but that just makes it so much more interesting. If you thought Gansey & Ronan’s friendship was exciting (the “While I’m gone, dream me the world” bit!!!), you are gonna LOVE this. (And realise what it was you found missing in TRC.)
» the atmosphere. The book literally starts with the boys being arrested for committing arson & then we get to see their journey toward that point and its fallout. And, exactly like you can imagine, this means that the story starts dark and only gets darker & darker & more creepy. It crawls under your skin, it catches your breath. It also wouldn’t probably be received by the reader in such a vivid & harsh way, if it wasn’t for the two main characters and the fact that’s clear from the very beginning: that they would both die for each other, gladly. Because with that kind of a relationship, it’s really hard not to care about the characters yourself.
» the setting. It’s marketed as a psychological thriller and yes, that’s pretty much what you’re getting yourself into. But there’s also this whole fantasy world within the story and when you’re not thinking about how fucked up it is that it’s here – it’s truly amazing. It’s not some golden magical kingdom you might be thinking about, though. It’s a kingdom, alright, but a dark one, full of thorny branches, endless hungry crows & champions who look like your friends but with dead hollow eyes. This world, like everything in this story, gets darker & more dangerous with every turned page and leaves you wishing for a good night’s sleep.
» the grand scheme of things. I mentioned there are some questionable elements in the boys’ relationship. Those make everything that much more intense & they rip your heart out but also: nothing about them is really healthy. See, the thing about The Wicker King is, though, that it acknowledges that. Throughout the book, in some small but clearly visible ways, but also – the whole ending is a testament to that. The boys get better, they know finally what’s going on & they know they have to break the cycle.
» the side characters. This is connected to the previous point. Because my favourite part about them – all of them beautiful teens!! – is that they are real friends. They are all trying very hard to help August & Jack, to keep them in check & not to let them run wild. To set some reasonable boundaries.
» the writing. It kind of seems almost irresponsible to make a whole separate point just about this when in truth, the writing holds the story together. It fits perfectly into the eerie scenes it describes, making them more poignant & making sense of them. Kayla’s style is beautiful in this simple & yet powerful way that we’re used to finding in poetry, not in prose. I think the shortness of the chapters helps with that aspect as well but mostly, it’s this amazing attention to detail. With a style that’s first of all haunting, Kayla makes the reader focus on just the emotions she needs (and that we’d rather not think about).
» the titles of chapters. I must admit I was a little put out & a little confused by how short the chapters are at first. That feeling went away quickly – this trick works out fabulously here, actually. But the titles themselves, they’re sometimes very straightforward (just a name or a place or a one-word description) & sometimes they make no sense at all. Until you finish the chapter and then the title puts the scene in a completely new perspective & makes it twice as painful. (I’m still thinking about “Communion” days later…)
The Wicker King is a lyrical fall down a rabbit hole. It’s terrifying but won’t let you rest until you reach the very end. And just when you’re thinking you won’t ever wake up from the nightmare again, that you’re stuck in this suffocating prison of prickles & thorns forever – it turns the light back on.
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