Reviews /

Wildsmith: Into the Dark Forest

Authored by Liz Flanagan
Illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton
Published by Uclan Publishing

Wildsmith: Into the Dark Forest marks the start of an exciting new middle-grade fantasy adventure series about a girl who helps her grandfather rescue endangered animals and discovers that she has hidden magical powers.

Rowan’s father works in the palace stables in the city of Holderby, but when news arrives that the Estrian army is invading, she and her mother are sent away to stay in the Dark Forest with her grandpa, a ‘wildsmith‘ who is able to heal animals using magic. But the forest is not as safe as it seems – poachers from Estria are on the hunt for dragons because they believe that their horns will help them win the war. Rowan is able to rescue a baby dragon and, together with her new friends, her grandpa and some helpful witches, must come up with a plan to keep the forest safe.

It’s a great premise for a series: magic and animal rescue are both popular genres with this age group and, although this book doesn’t do anything especially ground-breaking with the children’s fantasy genre, it’s well-plotted and consistently engaging. We are plunged into the story from the very first chapter, and the world-building is effective and imaginative, with a mix of familiar elements and new ideas, fleshed out by Joe Todd-Stanton’s attractive illustrations. Liz Flanagan keeps the action moving but does allow time to explore characters’ emotions – particularly Rowan’s growing awareness of her responsibility to the animals in her care and her acceptance that she will need to put their needs before her own.

I can see this being a popular book in KS2 classrooms, either for children to read independently or as a class, and it allows for discussion of a range of interesting issues including conservation and displaced families. I know that nine-year-old me would have hungrily devoured this book and then eagerly awaited the next instalment – so it’s good news that Wildsmith: City of Secrets is due out in April of this year!