Review: The Wicker King – Stifling and Mesmerizing

the wicker king

The Wicker King
Author: Kayla Ancrum
Publisher: Imprint
Release Date: October 31st, 2017
Genre(s): Young Adult, Psychological Thriller
Page Count: 320 (hardback)

Rating: 9.0/10


This book is dedicated to all the kids whose arms are filled with too much for them to hold, but who are trying their best not to drop a single thing.

The Wicker King is a story about the dangers of codependency. But it’s also about the neglect and casual abuse that children face at the the hands of adults, which lead to such dangers in the first place. Most people would write this kind of story as a contemporary in normal prose.

Not Kayla Ancrum.

Ancrum tells this story through the eyes of two teenage boys. Jack, who believes he can see into a fantasy world that overlaps our own, in which he is the king of. And August, Jack’s best friend, who is also his one true knight. According to Jack, the two of them are tasked with a dangerous quest. And if they can fulfill this prophecy, the Wicker King and his Champion, then maybe–just maybe– this other world would disappear and Jack would be free. On top of all this, the story is told in microfiction and multimedia form; very short “chapters” are interspersed with various notes, documents, photos, and even recipes. Even the pages themselves add to the story–as Jack’s fantasy world becomes progressively more dominant, the pages become more and more stained, eventually turning into a solid black. The result is an astoundingly unique and psychologically immersive experience.

August and Jack’s relationship is as suffocating as it is heartbreaking. August wants to care for Jack like he (August) has never been. And Jack wants the love and devotion that was always missing from his own life. Both of their families have largely abandoned them and so they try to find the missing pieces in one another. It’s difficult stuff to read through but it helps explain so much of their unhealthy behaviour.

August and Jack start off acting like normal teenagers. Then, as Jack’s other world becomes clearer and more prevalent, their relationship begins to oscillate. From teenagers to medieval king and knight. And then back to teenagers again. It’s strange. It’s jarring. And a little frightening. But most of all, it’s compelling. Like a burning house whose destructive beauty you can’t take your eyes off of.

And the writing is just stunning. It’s as erratic as the boys’ relationship, alternating between casual teenager speech to formal, stylized dialogue that so often took my breath away.

“Do they still sing songs of my victory?” August choked.

“They do. And they’ll crescendo like beacons to the farthest reaches. With every new breath of life that forms in a world without darkness that came at the price of your hands and your mind.”

But the last 50 pages are what truly makes this book–filled with poetry and heartrending exploration of mental illness and the fine divide between love and obsession. And Ancrum gets the distinction of writing the only Author’s Note that has ever made me tear up.

The Wicker King is a book that defies genres. One that blurs the line between realism and fantasy to explore the story of two children who have taken on so much of life’sĀ  burdens. And for those who worry that this is another one of those books where queer characters don’t get a happy ending, I assure you that isn’t the case here. While August and Jack’s journey isn’t an easy one by any means, Ancrum breathes life to the phrase, “It is always darkest just before dawn.”


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0 comment

Tammy May 26, 2018 - 3:35 pm

Wow, this sounds intense. I’ve heard people talk about this book but haven’t really read many reviews. Thanks for sharing!

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 27, 2018 - 4:22 am

I’d put this off for so many months *because* I’d heard how intense it was (and various other reasons), but now I’m kicking myself for not having picked it up earlier. šŸ™‚

acquadimore May 26, 2018 - 8:56 pm

I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about this book. I’ve been putting it off because it sounds heavy and when I want heavy I usually read SFF and not contemporary-like books. But this genre-bending aspect is something I find really intriguing and now I really want to get to it (also it looks weird and I always love weird). Great review!

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 27, 2018 - 4:18 am

It’s strange but I think the pseudo-fantastical elements actually helped lift some of the heaviness. Like, Jack’s escape into this fantasy world also became *my* escape. It’s really cleverly done and it’s for sure VERY weird, so definitely give it a go! (and it’s short so you can probably finish it in a day or two :))

anna May 26, 2018 - 10:16 pm

one of my favourite books of last year!!!! i am crying daily just thinking abt it???? why YES, i am!!
i was actually convinced this is straight up a fantasy novel before i started it??? talk abt blurring the lines btwn genres lmao!!!

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 27, 2018 - 4:12 am

I thought it was fantasy when it was first published too! And then some early reviewers complained that there was queerbaiting and whatnot, so I just shoved it to the bottom of my TBR. But I’m SO glad I decided to pick it up again. I will read literally anything this author writes.

anna May 27, 2018 - 6:37 pm

lmao QUEERBAITING! imagine not understanding a book this bad???? this is literally one of the best relationships i can name in ya literature???? and it’s polyam! LIKE!!
ummm big fucking mood. r u aware she has a lesbian novel coming out next year????

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 27, 2018 - 10:01 pm

YES I’M SO HYPED!!! I also still need to read the short story as well

anna May 28, 2018 - 9:55 am

ooooh yeah, the short story is great!! do it soon!

okaylib May 27, 2018 - 3:49 am

This book sounds incredibly daring and unique. You’ve described it in a way that is making me really interested in reading it! I added it to my TBR and am super excited to eventually being about to give it a read. Thanks for sharing!

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 27, 2018 - 4:28 am

Whoo! I look forward to hearing your thoughts when you do get to it. It’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year and I’ll be shoving it into everyone’s arms for the rest of the year. šŸ™‚

@lynnsbooks May 27, 2018 - 10:52 am

This sounds amazing – what a fantastic read. I will definitely add this to my wishlist.
Lynn šŸ˜€

Bookish: You’re Not Good Enough Book Tag May 27, 2018 - 3:35 pm

[…] Pages Below the Vaulted Sky […]

May 2018 Wrap-Up – Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 3, 2018 - 1:42 pm

[…] āž½ The Wicker King by K. Ancrum: (9.0/10) A beautiful genre bender that explores mental health and codependency in microfiction-multimedia format. Review here. […]


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