Fearless Traveler’s Guide to Wicked Places
Capstone Books for Young Readers
Available March 1, 2017
When a skull-shaped cloud kidnaps Nell’s mother and turns her into a bird, she and her brothers vow to get their mother back. To do this, they must find a powerful Fearless Traveler and persuade him to take them to a land of nightmares. Once there, they will have to make the dangerous journey to see Ravenhead, the only Dreamer who can undo the curse and return Nell’s mother to her real form. Along the way, Nell and her brother battle nightmares both outside and inside themselves. The only weapons they possess are the wisdom in the Fearless Traveler’s handbook and the truths they learn about themselves.
This story reminded me a little bit of The Thickety books by J. A. White in its lyrical prose and scary-whimsical storytelling. I liked the voices of each character—Nell and her brother George especially. George cracked me up with his snarky, arrogant-but-cute commentary. I loved the message about mothers and their connection to their children. Nell is told over and over that even if she’s able to transform her mother back to her human form, she’ll have no memory of Nell or her brothers. Nell refuses to believe this. She clings to her mom’s earlier words that a mother cannot forget her children, and that her body becomes the memory of them. The whole story has themes like this—where belief in things that are true trumps fears we hold. I liked that message.
One of the things I struggled with a little bit is the fact that for much of the journey, Nell and her brothers depend on an adult to fight their battles and help them through some obstacles. Especially in a story with a female lead, to have a male adult character taking the hero’s role sort of grates on me a bit. It feels like a statement that says she couldn’t do this on her own. I don’t think the author was trying to say that, but the story came close to feeling that way to me.
However, by about the halfway mark, Nell leaves her adult mentor behind and begins a journey alone. Soon she’s joined by a male friend who takes on a bit of a leading role as far as the fighting goes. Again, I’m not sure if this was deliberate, but I felt like Nell deserved a little more of the spotlight instead of being pushed into more of a support role yet again. I also kept waiting for the song shared between Nell and her mom to become a significant element. At several points it was clear that Nell and her mother’s relationship was special and it seemed like a song was part of their special bond, but that didn’t end up becoming a part of the story’s resolution. Maybe something saved for book two?
Overall, I really enjoyed the writing in this book and the truly unique story-world. I thought the characters were really fun and I couldn’t help investing in them and hoping they won the day. If you liked A Path Begins by J. A. White or Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman, you should definitely pick up this book.
Nell and her brothers are white. The witches come from Iceland.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Nell sees things on the people around her. Sometimes their faces change to that of an animal. She refers to this as seeing their “inner animal” and can dispel the vision by saying her name out loud.
Evil witches capture human mothers and intend to kill them as part of a ritual. Sometimes the witches are referred to as demons or in one instance a succubus.
Nell and her brothers cross over to another realm controlled by Dreamers who possess powerful magic. One of the battles they fight is one of transformation. Nell and her brothers transform into animals (their dream selves) at random and inconvenient times. Nell’s dream self is a fox who desperately wants to devour the yellow bird Nell must protect. Nell and the boys learn to combat the change by forcing themselves to remember who they really are. The story places a lot of emphasis on this idea—that there is power in clinging to truths like this or the Fearless Traveler’s motto.
A frightening cloud which sometimes looks like wolves and other times looks like a skull seems to be kidnapping women from Nell’s town. Nell fights a creepy octopus/wolf-like critter and takes on a team of creepy witches. Battle lines form between Nell and the Dreamers and the Witches and their allies, including some scary clowns.