Into the Windwracked Wilds by A. Deborah Baker (The Up-and-Under #3)
When the improbable road leaves Avery and Zib in the land of Air and at the mercy of the Queen of Swords, escape without becoming monsters may be impossible. But with the aid of the Queen's son, the unpredictable Jack Daw, they may emerge with enough of their humanity to someday make it home. Their journey is not yet over; the dangers are no less great.
TITLE: Into the Windwracked Wilds
AUTHOR: A. Deborah Baker
LENGTH: 224 pages
AGE: Middle Grade
Queer Rep Summary: No canon queer rep.
INTO THE WINDWRACKED WILDS feels meandering and meditative, continuing the meta conversation of the process of stories, childhood, and strangeness.
Avery is still upset about the way that Zib traded away something that was his without seeming to understand what that loss would mean for him. But now, almost as soon as they enter the Land of Air there begin to be consequences for her actions in a way that makes her understand the weight of them in a way she didn’t seem to before.
The worldbuilding is conveyed often through infodumps, either with information specifically given by knowledgeable characters, like Jack Daw, and the Drowned Girl, or through meta-explanations from the narrator. The narrator serves as a guide to the story, gently directing the reader to the parts, that are interesting enough to fit together into a book, often acknowledging what could’ve been shown, but isn’t for various reasons.
The omniscient narrator’s calm tone suffuses the story, so deeply entangled that it feels like I’m getting to know the narrator as well as the named (and unnamed) characters who are the focus. Because so much of the story revolves around building upon and complicating the characters' understanding of earlier events and their own reactions, it would not be advisable to start here without having read the other books. Some of the story might make sense, but it would be a very abrupt introduction to the nonsensical nature and often capricious logic of the Up and Under, and consequently a subpar introduction to many of the characters.
Most of the things that the Land of Air might most call its own are ones which we’ve already seen before at least a little. The Crow Girl, at once a murder, and a child, is likely by now so familiar to the reader that it’s strange, but not totally new, when Jack Daw and the other flocks appear. This is Zib’s second encounter with the queen of swords, and Avery’s thoughts keep returning to the earlier loss of the shine from his shoes. It makes the story echoing and pivotal all all at once, it is a joint upon which the entire course of the series is turning, further developing earlier characters and motifs. The focus is more on exploring the characters’ deeper entanglement in the Up and Under, and how much they are changing from who they were when they first climbed over the wall.
As a sequel, this returns to ongoing consequences of some earlier plot points, specifically, but not only Zib having traded away the shine from Avery’s shoes. The prologue, summarizing the events of the earlier books, fits in some information which I don’t think really was available before. If I’m wrong, and all of it did appear earlier, then the prologue does an excellent job of making sure information I had forgotten was fresh in my mind before reading this book. If I’m correct, and it was new, then I like it as a way of subtly making some new information known at the same time as reminding the reader of prior events.
There’s a new storyline related to travel under the water and in the Land of Air. The water section is fairly brief, but enjoyable, especially for anyone who would agree that that what this series was missing, so far is the presence of a mosasaur. I don’t think this precisely resolved any major storylines that were introduced within the same volume, or really at all. It feels like it moved forward several things, or gave them new context, so that their meaning was enhanced or perhaps shifted. In particular, I’m thinking of details related to the Crow Girl, this featured several other girls who are parts of flocks, murders, or chatterings. There's a particular paradigm shift at the end of the book that introduces the next stage of the children’s journey as well as establishing that at least one character has been greatly transformed in ways that will impact the remaining books. As what I understand to be the middle book in what will eventually be a five book series, this is by no means skippable, but there is a sense in which it doesn't quite have anything of its own. The way it resolves things (sort of) which were established earlier and starts something new, but doesn’t really both start and finish something unique, might lead some people to feel like not very much actually happened.
The ending works well, especially if this is the third book of five. It doesn’t need to tie up every loose end, nor does it try, it also clearly establishes some changes which have interesting implications for the next book. This does mean that it feels like a great deal changed in the last couple of scenes which there simply wasn’t time to fully explore, and I think this might feel like a cliffhanger to some people. I’m not bothered by cliffhangers, generally speaking, so this wasn’t a problem for me. I’m very excited for the next book!
Graphic/Explicit CW for body horror.
Moderate CW for animal death, death.
Minor CW for vomit, excrement, emotional abuse.