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  • Willa of the Wood

  • Willa of the Wood, Book 1
  • Written by: Robert Beatty
  • Narrated by: Emily Rankin
  • Length: 10 hrs and 16 mins
  • 3.3 out of 5 stars (3 ratings)
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Willa of the Wood

Written by: Robert Beatty
Narrated by: Emily Rankin
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Publisher's Summary

From number one New York Times best-selling author Robert Beatty comes a thrilling new series set in the magical world of Serafina.

Move without a sound. Steal without a trace.

Willa, a young night-spirit of the Great Smoky Mountains, is her clan's best thief. She creeps into the homes of day-folk under cover of darkness and takes what they won't miss. It's dangerous work - the day-folk kill whatever they do not understand - but Willa will do anything to win the approval of the padaran, the charismatic leader of the Faeran people.

When Willa's curiosity leaves her hurt and stranded in the day world, she calls upon an ancient, unbreakable bond to escape. Only then does she discover the truth: not all day-folk are the same, and the foundations that have guarded the Faeran for eons are under attack.

As forces of unfathomable destruction encroach on her home, Willa must decide who she truly is. To save the day-folk family that has become her own - and lift the curse that has robbed her people of their truth - Willa will meet deadly force with trusted alliance, violence with shelter, and an ever-changing world with a steady heartbeat of courage.

©2018 Robert Beatty (P)2018 Listening Library

What listeners say about Willa of the Wood

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Beautiful and whimsical

Beautiful and atmospheric story. The narrator did an amazing job. Careful of triggers, espacially forkids

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  • DeeDee Ashley Gomez
  • 2019-06-03

This book needs a trigger warning

The reviews of the book were so good that I figured I would enjoy this one. The performance of the reader was good, however the story itself is nothing but despair, abuse, assault, death and even more death. All this happening to a young character and for the most part it was hard to stomach. The few not death and despair parts were wholesome and wonderful. But it hardly made up for the moment after moment of drawn out sadness this character was experiencing.

As someone who has a diagnosed mood disorder, wouldn’t recommend this book to any child with any mood disorder. It’s violent, depressing, and filled with more hopelessness moments than good.

Probably could have been a good story without the overwhelming emphasis on despair.

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12 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous
  • 2021-01-24

Not for sensitive ears or imagination!

This book, though written well, is VERY vivid in its description of darkness, death, and injury that Willa encounters on her journey. I was shocked and slightly disturbed. The performance was not terrible, but definitely didn’t help with feeling so sad and upset by the words written. I was so looking forward to this book and saddened to know it is meant for children :(

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11 people found this helpful

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  • Ardent Andrea
  • 2020-01-11

Don’t stop here... just keep looking.

This book started with so much promise. The first few chapters drew you in and held on. Then it felt like some other writer took over the plot and it spiraled downward rapidly. The female character started strong and wonderful only to turn into a pessimistic Mary Sue. Some parts of the story had my 10 year old in tears- not tears of sadness and empathy, more like horror. Find another book to listen too.

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  • Kathy Johnson
  • 2018-07-23

Not what I expected . Very disappointed

I struggled to keep listening.
The narrator was really good.
But this story was sad and dark and unnecessarily brutal at times. I had high hopes for this book. Very disappointed

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  • E.F.B.
  • 2021-05-29

Excellent!

Note: I listened to this on audio haven't the foggiest clue how to spell any fantasy words that aren't mentioned in the synopsis. Please forgive any terrible or silly misspellings.

I first heard of this book very recently when the Parade section in the newspaper interviewed actress Amy Adams about what she's been doing lately. Adams was working on a screenplay for a children's book called "Willa of the Wood". I hadn't heard of that, but decided to look it up and ultimately was curious enough to get it on audio. Interesting thing, though: I didn't realize until after I'd used my monthly Audible credit that the author is the same one who wrote the "Serafina" series. I'd heard about Serafina several years ago, and my mom actually tried to read the first book because it was set in the historical Biltmore Estate and she thought that sounded interesting. Unfortunately, she ended up DNFing it because it got creepy halfway through and she didn't like that. I never read it either, because I don't do creepy. Supposedly, Willa is also set in the same world as Serafina. Cue me being nervous. BUT it appeared completely different than Serafina, so I decided to give it a chance knowing that if I totally hated it I could always get my Audible credit back.

I'm happy to say that I didn't hate it. Even though it's supposedly in the same world as Serafina, it bears very little resemblance to that series. It took some time for me to warm up to because the tone was darker than I was expecting (not creepy, thankfully, just darker), but once I adjusted my expectations, I was surprised at how much I liked it.

Willa is a member of the Faeran clan. The Faeran are a fantasy race that lives in the great Smoky Mountains (circa 1901, if I understand correctly). Their natural skin color is a mottled green, but those who remember the old ways and the old language are able to blend into their background so as to become invisible even to their own people. They can also talk to/manipulate wood and understand animals. Unfortunately, many of the Faeran have forgotten the old ways. However, Willa's Mamaw still remembers and has taught them to Willa.

The plot: For the Faeran, "There is no 'I', only 'we.'" They're taught from birth that the individual can only survive with the help of the clan. Willa, however, has been taught by her Mamaw, that no matter what the clan may say, it's important for Willa to hold on to her her ability to think as an individual and hold on to the natural kindness and concern for others that she's always had in her heart. This is where Willa's troubles start, as the story begins with her going off on her own to steal from the "day-folk" (human settlers) living nearby. She gets caught by one of the humans, who shoots her, not knowing who or what she is, but when he corners her and sees that she's a young girl, rather than finish the job, he's startled long enough for her to escape. When she returns to her clan, they're less worried about Willa's injuries than the fact that she didn't team up with one of the other "Yaeters" (sp?), a small group of members of the clan whose job it is to steal sustenance and valuables from the day-folk for the benefit of the entire Faeran clan. But she didn't team up because the other Yaeters have been stealing from her take, making her look bad and receive scorn from the leader of the clan (supposedly a god), the Padaran. She's able to prove this, though, and then produce something the Padaran values even more than food: Gold. And suddenly she's back in his good graces. More than that, he decides to honor her by inviting her to participate in a new plan he has for the good of the clan: Killing and selling the pelts of the woodland animals who just helped save Willa's life. It is then that Willa realizes for the first time that she cannot obey her leader. In her moment of rebellion, she discovers wicked secrets the Padaran himself has been hiding from the clan. He's been disguising his appearance, for one thing, and worse, there are human children locked up in cells hidden in tunnels under the place where the Faeran live. Suddenly, Willa realizes she can't stay with this clan that she no longer knows or can trust, and the one person she could trust is now gone. But how will she survive on her own? Could it be possible that the humans she's been taught all her life were her enemies might be more than she thought? Could they help her? Could she help them? I guess you'll have to read the book to find out. 😉

What I liked:

I liked this unique society that Beatty created. He did a great job of making the Faeran's distinct from the real world societies around them. I also thought he did very well at not falling into the unfortunate, but far too common issue of making one race or another the villain. Willa's people are a fantastical race, but we see people of real world races, including various indigenous peoples (Cherokee are mentioned, and I think one other tribe from the Smoky Mountain region was mentioned too, but my memory is failing me as to which one.) and white settlers. The people here really are allowed to be people. All capable of doing wrong and all capable of doing right. The only villains are the individuals who chose to do wrong and hurtful things, and their actions do not reflect on their race as a whole.

I liked that a big theme in the story was that individuals need to be able to think for themselves rather than blindly following what any one society says is right, and that we need to stand up for the innocent even when they're different from us.

I loved the alliances Willa made outside of her clan. I don't want to spoil it for anyone by giving too many details, but it was so nice to watch her learn about other people and see that different doesn't automatically mean bad, it's just different. She didn't have to completely understand or agree with everyone in order to care about them as people and develop friendships with them. Most of all, I loved the aspect of "found family" in this story. Again, no spoilers, but because of this, the ending was SO STINKING SWEET GAH! It truly made the whole book for me.

And a small but fun detail my fellow Tolkien fans will appreciate: There was a wolf in here named Luthien. :)

What I didn't like:

Mainly, I thought it was a tad dark for what I personally feel is appropriate for middle grade. Willa's age may make it fall under that category, but my personal opinion is that it feels YA in tone (lower YA, but still YA), so if you're looking at this for a child under the age of 12, you will want to keep in mind their individual maturity and sensitivities. I will give the author credit, though, for holding back on the description in the one scene in the book that *could* have been disturbingly graphic, and for doing it in a way that made sense for the character. (He simply has Willa refuse to look at the injuries of a dying person so she doesn't have to remember the individual that way.) This won him some trust in mind.

I may have liked the theme of the individual thinking for themselves instead of blindly following society's ways, BUT it still pushes the common notion that in order to judge what is right, you need to listen to your heart, which, as a Christian, I don't agree that the human heart is the best guide for morality. (The padaran's heart was full of greed and desire to control others, and look where listening to it got him...) I do think this could be a great jumping off point for a healthy discussion between kids and parents, though.

In conclusion I didn't know what to expect going into this book. It was truly an impulse buy and I was very nervous that I would dislike it when I realized the author was the same who'd written a different book that didn't fit my mom's and my personal tastes. But I'm happy to say that this one did work for me. There were some small things that that made it a four star instead of five star read for me, but I did overall enjoy it enough that I feel it was a good buy, and I believe I'm interested enough to check out the sequel (which just released this month, apparently) at some point in the future. I'm also interested to see what Amy Adams does with her screenplay and personally think this would translate well to animation.

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  • Elizabeth
  • 2020-02-14

😍This is now my favorite book 😍

Robert Beatty's book was overall amazing and Emily Rankin read the book beautifully. This is now my favorite book. I would not recommend to small children because there was a lot of bloody parts and many people died. That's all I wanted to share I highly recommend reading"Willa of the Wood".

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  • will84
  • 2018-08-06

The more whimsical, less creepy Serafina

This book was so engagingly written. Loved the original story and world building. I'd definitely read more from Willa and her fantastical world!

I really appreciated how this book was less scary/creepy than Beatty's Serafina series. I feel this is much more appropriate for the age range he targets, while still having high enough stakes to make it an interesting page-turner.

Also much preferred this narrator over the one who read the Serafina books. This one had a very pleasant vocal quality, but lacked the eccentricities that made the Serafina narrator almost distracting to me.

Would recommend this book for young and old readers alike!

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  • Patrice
  • 2018-07-30

Deeper and Sweeter

The story is powerful in its view on how we treat the planet, our family, and people who are not like us. A novel written beautifully and read very well. Willa will capture your heart as she pulls you deeper into the woods to hear her story.

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  • Aimee Johnson
  • 2023-04-19

Took some time to engage with the character

I enjoyed this story but it took some time for me to be drawn in and become interested in Willa. I loved Serafina from the get go and perhaps I was expecting to feel the same about Willa but her character had so many jarring traits with what I personally value that it took some time for me to care for her.

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  • Miss Bliss
  • 2022-08-24

love at first listen

A charming character descriptively written in such a unique and imaginative way, Willa stole my heart.

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