Review: The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A princess and a peasant girl must embark on a dangerous quest to outwit a centuries-old warning foretelling the fall of the Monarchy in this thrilling modern fairytale.

In the center of the verdant Monarchy lies Dreadwillow Carse, a black and desolate bog that the happy people of the land do their best to ignore. Little is known about it, except for one dire warning: If any monarch enters Dreadwillow Carse, then the Monarchy will fall. Twelve-year-old Princess Jeniah yearns to know what the marsh could possibly conceal that might topple her family’s thousand-year reign of peace and prosperity.

Meanwhile, in the nearby town of Emberfell, where everyone lives with unending joy, a girl named Aon hides a sorrow she can never reveal. She knows that something in the carse–something that sings a haunting tune only Aon can hear–holds the cure for her sadness. Yet no matter how many times she tries to enter, the terror-inducing dreadwillow trees keep her away.

After a chance meeting, Princess Jeniah and Aon hatch a plan to send Aon into the heart of the carse to unlock its darkest secret. But when Aon doesn’t return, a guilt-stricken Jeniah must enter the carse to try and rescue her friend–even if it means risking the entire Monarchy.

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse weaves together classic fairy-tale elements–a princess, a forbidden land, and a dangerous quest–in a clever, fast-paced adventure that explores the importance of asking questions and the power of friendship. 

Beware spoilers ahead!

I received this E-ARC via Algonquin Young Readers and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. When I saw this on Netgalley I simply assumed that it would be a sweet middle grade story. I did not except this to be slightly creepy and so engrossing. I am happy to be proven wrong.

The book begins with princess Jeniah. Jeniah is 12 years old and in short time she will soon be queen. Her mother is going to die soon leaving Jeniah orphaned and the only heir to the throne. By the beginning of the book Jeniah is queen ascendant.

Aon is a very different person than those in her village. The only emotion her townspeople seem to have is happiness. Whereas she has all emotions. More often than not she is sad. Her mother left her and her father years ago, for reasons unknown in the beginning. Since then she has been sad and lonely.

Jeniah is terrified of ruling and her mother dying. She has no idea how to rule and fears messing up. And she doesn’t understand the Dreadwillow Carse. Why can’t the royals enter? How will entering causing the monarchy to fall? Who came up with that warning? She desperately tries to find out all these answers while also getting tutored by Skonas who isn’t doing a very good job of teaching her how to be a good queen. Jeniah decides that if she is to be a good queen she must understand the Carse. And to do that she decides to get someone to go inside and report to her.

Aon has a secret. Behind everyone’s back she tries to walk into the Carse. Every time she does so she hears singing and that actually makes her happy. She only walks a few steps every time before the fear stops her from entering. She has not been able to enter. One day she hears a scream of help coming from the Carse. She saves the unknown girl. The girl turns out to be Jeniah. As she and Jeniah talk, the princess explains that she must find out what is inside the Carse and what is so bad about it. Aon offers to do so.

I actually had intentions of DNFing this. It was so disturbing to read about how the people were always happy and felt no other emotion! But because I liked the characters and the story I continued on. And I am very happy that I did so.

I felt so bad for both of the characters. They went threw so many struggles. Jeniah had so many fears. And they made sense. I could understand why she thought that she wasn’t ready to be a queen and that she was afraid of disappointing her mother. Skonas was frustrating in the beginning. But his lessons started making sense later on in the book.

Aon’s obsession with the Carse was also disturbing. It had a way of calming her down almost like a cure to her sadness. When she started making frequent trips to the Carse she found out that she is very much tied to it. Her friendship with Jeniah was sweet and it was nice that they both had an understanding of each other.

The Carse was terrifying! I had no idea that there was even a history behind it and some of the stuff in there along with the discoveries the girls make… To say the least it was completely unpredictable. The Carse is not your typical scary forest. It has a lot of mystery to it which I feel the author did a good job exploring.

There was a lot of character growth in this book. I was so surprised by some of the decisions and things Jeniah said towards the end of the book. She didn’t sound like a 12 year old but a grown, mature woman. Readers do find out why Aon’s mother left. By the end of this book Aon is happy and has another job to for Jeniah.

My only complaint would be is that there were times when I wondered why characters wouldn’t ask certain questions. Despite this the book had a nice ending.

Overall this was a sweet story with a bit of a mystery and creepy factor! I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read some middle grade creepy books, fans of middle grade, and anyone looking for another halloween story. It is still on Netgalley so you can request it.

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