Thieves of Weirdwood, by Christian McKay Heidicker

If you've read Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker (a 2020 Newbery Honor book) you will, perhaps, approach his new middle grade fantasy, Thieves of Weirdwood (written under the name of William Shivering), with both caution and curiosity.  Will this more traditional mg fantasy story be as horrifying and as vividly real? you might ask (or at least, I did), and you will be eager to dive into it to find out (at least, I was, and was not disappointed!)

Wally and Arthur are 12-year-old thieves (as shown on the cover, Wally is black and Arthur white), young members of the Black Feathers gang that terrorizes their city of Kingsport.  All their takings are owed to the gang leader, the Crow, who holds them fast in his fearful talons.  But Wally needs money to cover the hospital costs for his older brother in the city insane asylum, and Arthur needs money to cover his father's debts, so a big heist is needed by both!  

When Arthur finds wealthy strangers making themselves at home in what seemed to be an abandoned mansion, he drags Wally along for a break in.  The two boys find more than they bargained for--the mansion is now the temporary home of Weirdwood Manor, the travelling headquarters of an order dedicated to maintaining the border between the real and the magical words.  The border has weakened in Kingsport, and nightmarish magic is leaking through (nightmare #1--a porcelain doll that sucks the life out of its victims, leaving them china husks).

Wally and Arthur are stunned by the bizarre and fantastical wonders within Weirdwood Manor, and though Arthur makes it out, he leaves Wally behind.  Wally isn't alone, though--he meets a ghost girl, Breeth, who only he can hear, whose spirit can posses anything organic, and who desperately wants his help to revenge herself on her murderer.  Arthur, full of dreams of being a gentleman thief, like the hero of his favorite adventure books, steels himself to go back for Wally....and so the two boys become, for the moment, part of the Weirdwood team.

And it's a team that needs all the help it can.  The instigator of the attacks through the boarder between real and unreal is incredibly powerful, and can shape stories that terrorize Kingsport.  Wally and Arthur must harness their own stories to fight back.  With help from Breeth and her skills of ghostly possession (helped less by her penchant for puns), from the gentleman thief of Arthur's books and his merry skeleton crew, and from the Weirdwood agents (a young dragon boy and a fierce swordswinging girl), they defend their city from deadly nightmares....

So in answer to the question I posed above--yes, there's horror (if you have a strong aversion to tentacles and crows, you might think twice about this one), and yes, it's very vivid indeed (in many place, like bad dreams that stay shockingly real when you wake up).  But it is also a story of full of friendship, and loyalty, and good heartedness, and bravery, and lots of magic that's not always scary!  Wally, Arthur, and Breeth are great characters, perhaps the most memorable I've read about so far this year.  Though Wally is perhaps the more sympathetic of the two boys, Arthur overshadows him a bit; he's more flawed and more flamboyant).  And the story, which seems fairly simple at first, moves from simmer to full on boil with great aplomb!

It ends at an ending, but there's lots of scope for more, and I hope more comes sooner rather than later!

Short answer: a cracking read.  Particularly recommended for mg horror fans who are starting to play D. and D. and reading more traditional fantasy.

(note to those looking for it--the RI library system is shelving this under S for Shivering, even though Heidicker's name is clearly on the cover...I'm not sure how universal this choice of shelving name is....)


  1. This does sound good indeed. Need to suggest it for my library.

  2. Hmm, I'm not sure if I'll pick this up... I loved Scary Stories so much and would really just like more of that, haha. I kind of disregarded this after I read the synopsis however long ago. But your review reminds me I shouldn't compare it so much to another title. It does sound like it has potential to be a popular title.


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