The Wicker King
by K. Ancrum
When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.
August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.
This book broke me and then slowly rebuilt me, so much happens and there are so many strong feelings inside of me for the characters, I admit that the review might be a bit of a mess but I am going to try my best to make it look okay.
Firstly, this book is so well-paced and the short chapters makes us feel the same sort of harried and almost manic emotions that the characters are feeling. Without giving a lot of details, this book manages to be so atmospheric and at times, I had to stop because I felt like I was just as present with August and Jack as they themselves were. That was the magic of the book, this absolute wonderful way the author had making us feel involved.
Secondly, the characters. God. Where do I even begin with August and Jack? They are so entangled in each other and so codependent, it’s so unhealthy but their intentions make it better sometimes? I am not saying I didn’t feel a bit voyeuristic while reading some of the chapters, they were that intense and all-consuming, reading from August’s point of view. Both boys need so many things from their parents and they aren’t given any, so they turn to each other to fulfill their needs. I think, they realise on some level that they are both too young to be good parental figure to each other but that doesn’t stop them from trying.
The secondary characters in the book were well written but they always faded away because of the very dominant way August and Jack ruled over the book, even Rina Medina despite being a good friend and trying her best to help them mostly faded away because of August and Jack. Perhaps it was meant to be, after all, this is all about the two of them in the end, no matter how much the others try to make them see other things, people.
It is one of those rare books where there’s parental neglect but not parental abuse. That’s very rare, as Melanie said. Generally, if there’s parental neglect, then abuse follows or vice versa. In this one, it wasn’t so and that’s what made it a bit more special in my eyes, at least. There is no doubt that this book is messed up, both in terms of characters as well as the direction the characters take but I think the author dealt with the issues in a more realistic way. I don’t think teenagers are likely to go for help from the kind of families August and Jack come from.
It took me the longest to decide whether I genuinely liked the book or was I just trying to hurry it up to see what happens. When I read the Author’s Note, I knew I liked it. I can’t say I enjoyed it but it’s one of those memorable books that stay with you long after you’ve read it.
Third, the lack of clarity about the relationship between August and Jack, I was always concerned about it but I had faith that or rather, I had hopes that things will be clearer in the end. They were but upon reading a few reviews, I have realised that they might not have been as clear to some as it was to me? There have been accusations of queer-baiting but the thing is, near the end, it’s quite obvious what’s happening and I am still not sure why the accusations were there.
August is questioning or rather not quite sure of his sexuality throughout the book and Jack, well, Jack is not quite there enough to wonder about his sexuality and I understand that the lack of confirmation might bother people but having characters questioning themselves makes the whole story far more complex in my opinion and more realistic. Sure, some people just know what or who they are but for many, it takes a long while to come to a realisation, to an acceptance.
This is not an easy book to like, nor is it a light read and there are certain things in it that could be triggery so beware of those before you pick up the book but if you feel you are comfortable with it then I hope you are as obsessed with it as I was.
Overall, you will either like this book and be messed up while you are reading it or you will throw it across the room and never pick it up again. I hope it’s the former with you.
Content Warnings for: violence, parental neglect, abuse, mental-illness (degenerative hallucinatory disorder), codependency, anxiety, panic attacks