In Review: Wicked Nix

This is a book worthy of a rare adjective: magical. Absolutely recommended.

Wicked Nix by Lena Coakley

Illustrations by Jaime Zollars

Published by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams, on October 9, 2018. Hardcover of 176 pages at $16.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12. 

Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: A small cabin in the woods is surrounded by a ring of salt. Large trees circle about the cabin as well. A large, flowing billow of smoke comes out of the dwelling’s chimney, caught in the tall limbs of the trees, which reveal that someone is sitting in one of those trees. Immediately above the silhouette is the title in large fanciful letters. To the middle left of the smoke is a blurb from Kathy Stinson. Underneath the cabin is the author and illustrator’s names. This is a beautiful cover that teases what the book is about while revealing nothing. There’s no specific credit given to the creator of this illustration, but I’m assuming it’s Jaime Zollars. The design of this cover is credited to Alyssa Nassar. This is a great cover. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “Mischievous woodland fairy Nix is up to no good. His beloved fairy queen has gone away, leaving him with a very important job: He must protect his forest from a most dangerous enemy — humans. When a determined invader trespasses on his territory, Nix’s skills are put to the test as he invents several wicked tricks to chase the sorry fellow away. But when his efforts don’t go quite according to plan, it becomes clear that this intruder — and this sprite — may not be at all what they seem.” I’m expecting a fairy causing trouble for a hapless human. I’m not expecting much beyond this. This doesn’t sound too exciting. Overall grade: B-

The characters: Nix wants to keep the forest pure for the Fairy Queen, whenever she and her fellow fairies return. When he discovers a human has taken up residence in an abandoned cabin he knows it’s his job to send that human packing. He pulls several pranks, and they are funny, albeit a bit mean at times, and he does express regret at some of the things he does. Sadly, Nix has no one to share his worries with, so he talks to Mr. Green, the spirit of the forest. Mr. Green offers sage advice, though it is a little murky at times. If Mr. Green doesn’t give Nix the answers he wants, he goes to a young human girl, Rose, whom he calls Rose the Wise. She is full of imagination and sings songs, as any child would. She gives things to Nix that he finds useful in his cause to purge the human. The book takes a dramatic turn in Chapter 10 and the book brilliantly went beyond a children’s story. It was incredibly moving, becoming happy, sad, and adventurous. I was moved to what Coakley does with the lead. The two antagonists of the novel are the human in the woods and the absent Fairy Queen. The man is the obvious villain because he’s living where he shouldn’t be and tries to thwart Nix day and night. He has an equally impressive dramatic reveal in Chapter 10. The Fairy Queen does appear in this book, in the finale, but her absence is the reason Nix causes all the conflict in the novel. Her character also has a major change by the end of the book. This is a very small cast of characters, but they change and grow so much, they contain depth that other individuals in more mature books never reach. Overall grade: A+

The settings: The forest is the main location of this book. Nix sleeps in the trees, runs through the woods, and cares for all creatures that inhabit it. Coakley does a great job creating the greenery of the forest; I believed it existed and that it could contain beautiful things, yet still had sinister mysteries lurking about. The cabin that’s the focus of Nix’s ire is the classic cabin in a forest of magic. The exteriors are described excellently and what lies inside is teased perfectly as the fairy looks within the windows or takes a peek through the open door. Once inside, Nix and the reader are spellbound by what is found. That’s it: these are the only settings of the novel and they’re great. Overall grade: A

The action: The pranks that Nix pulls on the human in the first half of the book comprises the action of that section. I admit to expressing a deviant pleasure at what Nix was going to do next, and then was equally happy with what the human did to retaliate. It’s in Chapter 10 that the action changes direction, becoming incredibly focused on something that I can’t discuss without spoiling the story. It was very intense, very surprising, and extremely entertaining. Overall grade: A

The conclusion: I’m not going to lie: I got weepy. This is a book intended for 8 – 12 year-olds, but it had all the emotional tug of a classic novel. The book ends in a beautiful place with a stunning image and the most perfect closing dialogue. It was incredible. Overall grade: A+

The illustrations: Jaime Zollars creates some smart black and white illustrations for this book. Each chapter beginning is accompanied by the same illustration that appears simple and childish, but teases something major about the story. Some of my favorite work by Zollars is Rose on 20 and 42, the whimsy of the item shown on 47, the reveal on 66, which is shocking and beautiful, and the subtle horror of the item on 83. Overall grade: A

The final line: I was wowed by this children’s book. What starts as a simple tale of fairy trouble turns into a stellar tale of identity and family. By the end of the book I was completely taken by every moment of this tale. I envy the adults who get to share this book with the children in their lives. This is a book worthy of a rare adjective: magical. Absolutely recommended. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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