Series Review: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Beware the Wild (#1)
Behold the Bones (#2)
Author: Natalie C. Parker
Genre: gothic, magical realism 
Series: Beware the Wild #1 - #2
BtW: 327
BtB: 368
BtW: October 2014
BtB: February 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
BtW: 4/5
BtB: 4.25/5

It's an oppressively hot and sticky morning in June when Sterling and her brother, Phin, have an argument that compels him to run into the town swamp—the one that strikes fear in all the residents of Sticks, Louisiana. Phin doesn't return. Instead, a girl named Lenora May climbs out, and now Sterling is the only person in Sticks who remembers her brother ever existed.

Sterling needs to figure out what the swamp's done with her beloved brother and how Lenora May is connected to his disappearance—and loner boy Heath Durham might be the only one who can help her.

This debut novel is full of atmosphere, twists and turns, and a swoon-worthy romance.

I had never wanted to visit a swamp until I read Chime by Franny Billingsley. Even then, I was pretty sure that was a one-time urge, because swamps sound like the opposite of where I want to be... until Natalie C. Parker's stories about a magical swamp in Louisiana were filled with such atmosphere that it felt real, like the kind of place that magic would appear. This author's talent for atmosphere and setting are showcased extraordinarily well between the two books she's written in the series. Book one, Beware the Wild was good -- engaging, fresh, filled with defined characters, and excellent writing. Book two, Behold the Bones, has all that its predecessor does, but builds on that lore and incorporates new characters and plots for an even better read.

There's a lot to love about both books, but besides the evocative atmosphere in the writing, the characterization and interaction of the teens and adults in the stories are also top-notch and deftly handled. First with Sterling and later with Candace as the main characters, Parker builds very authentic and real-seeming kids with problems that may be uniquely supernatural, yet still manage to feel sympathetic and relateable with a more mundane existence. The romance in Beware the Wild was a bigger focus and thus carried my feels more than the ship(s) that were introduced for Candace over the course of book #2. I did like the author's inclusion when it came to the characters -- not everyone is straight, or white, or interested in being a parent.

I greatly enjoyed Beware the Wild, but found Behold the Bones to be an even better followup to Parker's impressive debut. I rated it around 4.25ish but the new novel was pretty much all that I wanted and was scared to hope for in a sequel to Beware the Wild. It was gothic, eerie, atmospheric, the supernatural elements tied in naturally, the characters were diverse and inclusive, and the plot was tied to the first novel's but was not dependent upon it for understanding or advancement of this second story. Parker's writing is also even stronger here; the introspective nature of Candace's thoughts are mature and interesting ("the things I lack don't define me; I define them.") and show a slow, careful, very authetnic evolution of the character.

Southern gothic magical realism novels may be a niche genre, but gems like Natalie C. Parker's duology might make a fan of me yet. Her plots are detailed, rich and memorable and her characters are the same. The pacing in both novels felt a bit off for me, especially in the beginning for each, but these are two novels that build into something rather special once the main plots are engaged and moving forward. Evocative, original, and detailed, these are definitely two books that I will remember long after I have finished. Everything in Sticks seems like it's fairly wrapped up and the stories ended by the final page, so I appreciate the resolution offered. I would, however, be open to more stories with new POVs, set in this place.

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