The Thickety Full Series Review

Covers of all four books

Have you ever read a YA novel, like… Daughter of Smoke and Bone, for instance, that promised to be super dark and angsty with a badass, proactive protagonist, and then suddenly broke that promise like Link smashing an urn in somebody’s house? Well, I had that experience with the aforementioned novel and many others. Astonishingly enough, The Thickety, a children’s book series published by Harper Collins and written by J.A. White, is angstier than most YA authors could dream of writing. And here, I’ll detail why.

In the series’ opener, The Thickety: A Path Begins, Kara Westfall’s mother gets burnt alive for allegedly being a witch. Good ol’ Disney formula. However, village chief Fen’de Stone made a good call, for Kara’s mom actually WAS a witch. And one day, Kara finds her mom’s old grimoire, and it enables her to manipulate creatures from the forbidden forest known as the Thickety, which is the home of Sordyr, who is some tree demon man. The catch is that not only does she have to keep it a secret from everyone, but it also eats away at her soul for every spell she uses. Lovely.

While this sounds like a generic YA power fantasy, The Thickety is executed exceptionally well. The big thing is how the premise of the grimoire system is handled. Throughout the first book, you see firsthand what happens when you cast a grimoire’s Last Spell (which, spoilers, is something you don’t want to do). To compare The Thickety to Amulet, a similarly angsty book series which I didn’t like, that graphic novel- at least the portion that I read- never showed any visible consequences of Emily’s using the Amulet besides one other guy turning into a big monster thing. However, the scene was very unceremonious and the Amulet itself was never contextualized well enough to define any prerequisites for when it “takes you over” or whatever. Furthermore, Emily- like the Mary Sue that she was- seemed able to fend off the temptations ridiculously easily. Even if Emily might get taken over by the Amulet further down the road, Kara really struggles against the grimoire right out of the gate, and White’s writing talent shows that in full force. 

The start of A Path Begins is rather slow, as is with most book series. Fortunately, once things escalate with the grimoire, it gets really intense and really scary. I was impressed by how disturbing some of the imagery is given the target demographic. And it only gets crazier in book two, The Whispering Trees, which is spent inside the titular Thickety itself.

The cast of The Thickety is its weakest aspect, but it’s by no means bad. Kara is a pretty generic YA protagonist, but fortunately, she’s not quite a Mary Sue. She actually has to deal with the consequences of the grimoire and her decisions. She’s an intentionally flawed heroine, but done right. And unlike most YA protags, she is actually able to kill in cold blood (gore warning, kids).

Taff, her younger brother, is my least favorite character by far. He’s the generic, rash and reckless adolescent male who goes through an underdog phase throughout the story. However, the aspect of him that I love- and probably the most important writing decision in the entire series- is simply him being Kara’s brother. With the male and female leads as siblings, there’s no romance! Her sisterly love for him feels more real than what most YA protagonists feel for their significant others, and without the cringey dialogues of those protagonists. There is Lucas, the designated childhood friend,  but White seems to have gone out of his way so that he and Kara never get to spend much time together. Depending on your tastes, that’s either a godlike breath of fresh air or the worst news ever.

The biggest problem with The Thickety is that it kind of falls apart at the end. No… that’s too harsh. It really kind of fractures a bit. As much as I praised Kara’s struggle with the grimoire, that issue ends up being resolved rather conveniently at the halfway point. And after that point, Kara ends up devolving into a more YA-like, Mary Sue brat, while Taff- of all people- ends up becoming the voice of reason (wow, after saying how much better than Amulet this is, it suddenly BECOMES Amulet). Also, due to the pacing of the books, a lot of the setpieces in the latter half of the story kind of get glossed over. It also falls for the typical modern fantasy trap of “Yeah, I can put in this thing that hadn’t been contextualized before because magic!” in the fourth and final book (including a decently inventive but nonetheless existent use of time travel).

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Final Verdict: 9/10

The Thickety, overall, is freaking incredible. Horrifying scenarios, tight pacing, and powerful prose bring an otherwise cardboard cutout fantasy series to life in full throttle. Although the author arguably cops out at the end, it’s nowhere near long enough for that portion to feel like a drag. At the very least, all plot threads get resolved in some way, which is something. I highly recommend it for someone who’s looking for fun, suspenseful, gritty fantasies.

Otherside Picnic Volume 1 Review

Cover of volume 1

At first glance, Otherside Picnic– published in English by J-Novel Club- looks like a boring, CGDCT isekai that uses the cover art of cute girls holding guns to lure you into what looks like an edgier version of Laid-Back Camp. In actuality, it’s a surreal sci-fi thriller that doesn’t have time for sissie things like picnics (sorry, Yogi Bear).

This story jumps in so fast, that you’d think that you were reading the start of volume 2 at first. Our main character, Sorawo, is saved from a threatening encounter in the titular Otherside by a cool, tomboyish girl named Toriko (no, she’s not a gourmet hunter). Turns out that Toriko’s looking for a friend who’s been lost in the Otherside, so Sorawo joins her because she’s got nothing better to do. After this abrupt intro, you get context to how Sorawo found her way into the Otherside, and it’s not long before you find that there are multiple entrances into it.

What makes this novel most interesting is how it subverts a lot of modern isekai’s tropes, perhaps moreso than Ascendance of a Bookworm. The characters aren’t overpowered; in fact, they are very vulnerable at all times. Also, the characters freely move between this world and Otherside, a rarity among isekai in general.

Most importantly, the Otherside itself is interesting, and is by far the biggest appeal of the series right out of the gate. It is very bizarre and strange. It seems almost post apocalyptic, as it has ruins scattered throughout. The place is also- as Stan Laurel would say it- infatuated with terrifying creatures. A lot of the weird stuff that happens in Otherside Picnic are based on real Internet ghost stories and urban legends, which gives a sort of Steins;Gate vibe, as that series incorporated real-life conspiracy theories into its story.

The characters, so far, seem to be the weakest aspect. Sorawo is kind of a generic, ditzy girl, while Toriko is a generic badass. They’re brain and brawn, respectively. They obtain interesting powers early on in the story that force them into some interesting scenarios, but their personalities- aside from a couple of weird things that Sorawo says in her monologues- are a bit lacking. However, I at least see room for improvement moving forward.

The art is appealing. As much as I joked about the cover art earlier, the coloring is great, and the illustrations have a lot of cool tones and shades to them. Its much darker than most light novel art is.

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Verdict: 8.85/10

Otherside Picnic is shaping up to be one of the best new isekai. While I don’t like it as much as The Hero is Overpowered But Overly Cautious or Torture Princess, it has merits in that it subverts modern tropes enough to appeal to the critics, while having enough thrills and action to appeal to fans of isekai. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys weird sci-fi thrillers like Steins;Gate.