Tania Del Rio & Will Staehle – Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods

Twelve-year-old Warren has learned that his beloved hotel can walk, and now it’s ferrying guests around the countryside, transporting tourists to strange and foreign destinations. But when an unexpected detour brings everyone into the dark and sinister Malwoods, Warren finds himself separated from his hotel and his friends—and racing after them on foot through a forest teeming with witches, snakes, talking trees, and mind-boggling riddles.

Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods, written by Tania Del Rio and illustrated by Will Staehle was a wonderful surprise. It is the second book in the Warren the 13th series, after Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye, which came out last November. The Warren books are illustrated middle grade novels and I’d situate them at the younger end of the age bracket, more 9-10 than 11-12. I haven’t read the first book, but I found that the second book works quite well as a standalone story. I must admit though that I’m curious to read the first book and find out what happened, because it’s bound to be a fantastic story. 

Del Rio’s writing reads easily and is also a pleasure to read aloud, so it should be a fun book to read together with a young middle-grader. The reading experience is enhanced by the gorgeous illustrations created by Will Staehle. I really like Staehle’s style, which is quirky and reminiscent of the old-fashioned engravings often found in eighteenth and nineteenth century books and papers. The art compliments the sensibility of the story perfectly and enhances it as well.

Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods is a very cute story, populated with endearing characters, wonderful villains, and an awesome journey of discovery. Both Warren and Petula learn a lot about themselves and about the world they live in, not in the last place that you can always surprise yourself by being more than you thought you were, whether that is more capable, braver, cleverer, or more determined.

Warren has a great adventure trying to rescue his hotel, one where he has to solve riddles and puzzles, fight witches and assorted ne’er-do-wells, and learn that things aren’t always as they seem. In this case, Sir Sap, the sap-squatch, who I adored. I really liked this truly civilised creature, who’s cultivated speech and good manners shock Warren a lot. I also really liked Petula’s mum Beatrice and the way she communicated via cards, because she lost her voice to a witch. But perhaps my favourite was Warren’s pet Sketchy, a kind of multi-eyed cephalopod. He was just the cutest thing and I loved how he saves the day several times just by virtue of his own unique nature and quick thinking.

Warren is a great hero in a wonderful world, where hotels can walk, trees can talk, and witches try to rule everything. I really enjoyed Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods and I hope to share it and its predecessor with my daughters in the future. You can pick up your own copy of the book when it is published on March 21.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.