Jack once saved August’s life . . . now can August save him?
August is a misfit with a pyro streak and Jack is a golden boy on the varsity rugby team–but their intense friendship goes way back. Jack begins to see increasingly vivid hallucinations that take the form of an elaborate fantasy kingdom creeping into the edges of the real world. With their parents’ unreliable behavior, August decides to help Jack the way he always has–on his own. He accepts the visions as reality, even when Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy.
August and Jack alienate everyone around them as they struggle with their sanity, free falling into the surreal fantasy world that feels made for them. In the end, each one must choose his own truth.
This one was picked up on a whim; shoutout to Para from To Other Worlds for letting me know it was one sale and Sara from The Fantasy Inn for acting as quality control. I fully admit I grabbed this one because someone in Discord told me it explored an extremely fucked-up, co-dependent relationship, which is something I find really fascinating. The microfiction tag threw me off, but honestly, I think the book was better for it.
The strength of Wicker King lies in its slow-burn, eerie, creeping horror tone as the story progresses. After being told of arson in the first chapter, we follow August and Jack living their normal MidWestern high school lives. Their co-dependence is shown, but the degree of severity isn’t fully realized. As we follow Jack’s descent to madness through August’s eyes, we are really able to feel that sense of premonition and dread August experiences talking to Jack (there’s TWO suns??). Similarly, the story climax got absolutely tense! Poor poor August.
One thing I wish was more explored in The Wicker King was the fantasy world Jack finds himself forced into. The premise feels somewhat Arthurian, but with a darker, more shadow-y twist and just, names like The Wicker King immediately pique my interests. Shoutout to two six-year-olds for coming up with more interesting and intriguing worldbuilding than some published fantasy series.
Emotionally, I think the story really hits so hard in the last 50 pages. I’ve said that this book is all about the eerie slow-burn buildup, where the reader is only given bits and pieces of the full story. Even though we know there isn’t supposed to be any actual fantasy elements, Jack’s conviction and August’s playing along had me questioning my own senses and understanding of how fantasy this world truly was. When all the pieces finally come together, when you the reader discovers it with August…. just wow. Simply wow.
Overall, I rate this a 5/5. Even though the microfiction threw me off at first, I think this book is a straight masterpiece on eerie slow-burn horror with a fascinating (read: like watching a burning car) codependent relationship. The Wicker King also holds a spot as the only book who’s author’s note made me cry.
r/Fantasy Bingo Squares:
- Novel Set in a School or University (hard mode)