THE WANDERING LAND
by Jamie Killen
On a summer night in a sunbaked desert city, the wandering land appears. A fairytale village nestled in dense forest, it is a place of ruined castles, abandoned treasures, and strange creatures living in the shadows. Brought together by this impossible place are five visitors: failed painter Eli; art professor Amal; young lovers Darcy and Wes; and mysterious, haunted Coyote. Together they explore their own secret village, an entire world hidden in plain sight.
But there is darkness beneath the magic, a force pulling the visitors deeper and deeper into the place’s mysteries. As the boundaries between the secret land and the outside world begin to collapse, each of the visitors is confronted with visions of an otherworldly child, a child whose existence holds the key to understanding everything about the place that has drawn them together.
Who is this child? Why did she choose them? And will she ever let them go?
“What the fuck happened to the sky?” Wes choked.
The entire sky shone an electric violet, a color that only ever happened at sunrise but shining just as bright now as midday. A purple sun shone down from behind scattered clouds, staining the earth. The trees and the rocks and the grass all lay drenched in a layer of color like berry juice coating the world.
Darcy stood and turned a half circle. “Oh shit,” she said.
Behind them sat a banquet table. Her eyes locked on the food right away. Ripe fruit, golden bread, a platter of roasted meat. A moment ago she’d been struggling not to vomit, but now her stomach felt hollow. Her head swam.
Then she saw the skeleton. It wore old woolen pants, a red waistcoat, and a cloth cap. It sat in a high chair at the end of the table, bony hand fixed around a goblet.
Somehow, Darcy’s eyes dragged away from the skeleton and toward the food. Just a taste, she thought, just a taste so I know if it’s as good as it looks. She stood and took a few lurching steps toward the table. Some noise tried to get in at the edge of her hearing, something she couldn’t quite bring herself to pay attention to. She reached for one of the little tea cakes on the edge of a platter.
Something obscured her vision, and then Wes was grabbing her shoulders and shaking her so hard her teeth clacked together. “What?” she asked.
“Don’t eat,” he said. His hands trembled around her arms. “In fairy tales, there’s always food. . . There’s food, and when you eat it, you’re trapped.” He flailed with one arm in the direction of the skeleton, eyes squeezed shut. “He ate the food. We have to go back.”
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Ever since I read Erin Morgenstern’s THE NIGHT CIRCUS, I’ve been searching for more books with a sense of wonder told in a haunting but beautiful voice that utterly engulfs me in its trappings. I found a winner.
As a writer, stories about being able to influence a landscape (or anything, really) have held a high fascination. What would it be like to have that kind of control? THE WANDERING LAND answers this, but not in any way I expected. The power and responsibility that come with being a creator are self-evident. But the fear, the guilt, the choices that have to be made? And you never know just who or what you might be changing. Needless to say, I hung on this concept from word one. Only grudgingly did I let go at the epilogue’s conclusion.
The descriptions in this book are stellar. The characters are fleshed out beyond belief, even the secondary ones. How each one grows, and how the main five learn to work as a team, kept me at the edge of my seat. The trials they face—from the literal trials set out by the girl, to becoming lost in their art—made this a story of equal parts internal and external struggle. The land itself and its history had me slack-jawed. It’s beauty and darkness, often in the same scene, came across in vivid descriptions. The author has woven such a complex and emotional tale of decisions, love, and learning the true meaning of a hero’s journey. I want to go back. On the other hand, I want this to live as a perfect stand-alone story in my mind forever.
For me, there is always some trepidation when embarking on books with this kind of lilt to them. Will they truly be twisted and dark but still lovely in a way I can’t quite put my finger on? As I said, this one passed the test with flying colors. I am so glad I picked this book up, and this author is officially going on my watch list.
Jamie Killen’s short stories have appeared in numerous speculative fiction magazines and anthologies. She is also the writer and producer of the acclaimed audio drama SPINES. She is currently developing a new supernatural audio drama called The Six Disappearances of Ella McCray.
Find her online
Jamie will be awarding a $10 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.a Rafflecopter giveaway