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Osmo Unknown and the Eightpenny Woods: 10/19/22
Osmo Unknown and the Eightpenny Woods by Catherynne M. Valente (2022) is a middle grade fantasy novel borne out of the grief and anger engendered by COVID-19. Osmo Unknown is called to save his town of Littlebridge from the Fourpenny woods when his mother breaks the treaty by murdering the queen of the Quidnunk.
Catherynne M. Valente has a way with words. That's an established fact. This particular volume hits similarly to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (2011). Both feature children who want nothing more than to escape. But September's journey and heroism is self driven, while Osmo's is forced upon him when his parents fail him. The former was written before motherhood, the latter, after and during a pandemic. Read the afterword where she lists the people in her family she lost to COVID.
Osmo's journey is tightly written, with no detail overlooked or word wasted. There's a central theme woven around a complex version of chess called doublechess. The doublechess aspect brings to mind Through the Looking Glass And What Alice Saw There (1871).
But it's only one of many this novel brings to mind. With the isolation of the village and inability of anyone to leave, I'm reminded of The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert (1968). The sentient mushrooms are certainly a contributing factor, too!
Then there's Osmo's journey to the Eightpenny woods, the Fourpenny wood's version of the afterlife. The journey itself brings to mind the miniseries, Over the Garden Wall (2014). His betrothal to the dead queen, though, had me thinking of The Corpse Bride (2005)
Osmo and the Eightpenny Woods also sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. Osmo on his travels to wed a ghost is set up in the scarecrow/minotaur (99) travel dichotomy. They are both protectors of their homelands, and monsters to the opposing population. His destination is the wildlands of the underworld, represented literally through the Eightpenny Woods (99). His route there, is the interstate (00) in that he has no real option save for going forward to meet his fate.
As this is such a richly composed book, I plan at sometime to do a more in depth re-read with annotations. For now, though, I am content to mull.