Book Review – The Wretched of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler

The Wretched of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler

The Wretched of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler

The blurb theologises:

In the ancient and mystical land of Muirwood, Lia has known only a life of servitude. Labeled a “wretched,” an outcast unwanted and unworthy of respect, Lia is forbidden to realize her dream to read or write. All but doomed, her days are spent toiling away as a kitchen slave under the charge of the Aldermaston, the Abbey’s watchful overseer. But when an injured squire named Colvin is abandoned at the kitchen’s doorstep, an opportunity arises. The nefarious Sheriff Almaguer soon starts a manhunt for Colvin, and Lia conspires to hide Colvin and change her fate. In the midst of a land torn by a treacherous war between a ruthless king and a rebel army, Lia finds herself on an ominous journey that will push her to wonder if her own hidden magic is enough to set things right. At once captivating, mysterious, and magic-infused, The Wretched of Muirwood takes the classic fantasy adventure and paints it with a story instantly epic, and yet, all its own.

Through most of the book my problem was that it didn’t make me care.  The main character was disadvantaged (literally “wretched”) but somehow the book failed to make me feel anything about that.  Part of it may have been that the reason for her wretchedness was the fact that she doesn’t know who her parents are (the book takes pains to distinguish between this and being an orphan).  Why this is important in the book’s world is explained, but I still couldn’t bring myself to care, and it’s the author’s job to make me care.  The main character’s greatest wish is to learn how to read, but the author never explains why.  Not understanding her made it hard to relate to her.

Increasingly though my problem with the book came from the magic system.  It’s basically a combination of blind faith and wishful thinking, which doesn’t leave the characters much to do other than try to “think right”.  Throughout the book I felt like I was being preached at somehow – maybe it was the “having faith” aspect of the magic system – and this was confirmed when the author’s biography at the end of the book mentioned him being a devout member of his church.  The reviews of the book on Amazon are shockingly good (4.5 star average over 1,575 reviews) which made me suspicious because it was so different from my impression, and sure enough all of the negative reviews complain that the book is LDS/Mormon religious fiction.  I suspect the large number of positive reviews are the author’s community supporting him.

There’s one really good, dramatic action scene in the book, which is pretty much responsible for the second star it got.

I’m always glad to see writers branch out from straight white male protagonists, and the main character does rescue herself on occasion, but she spends most of the book being pushed around by men or dealing with the consequences of their actions.