Down the Mysterly River Book Poster Image

Down the Mysterly River



Clever fantasy adventure a great choice for middle graders.

What parents need to know

Educational value

The main character is an enthusiastic member of the Boy Scouts, and he demonstrates a number of survival tips during the course of his quest.

Positive messages

Max the Wolf finds himself in a confusing, dangerous situation, but through the use of learned skills, deductive reasoning, and empathy, he is able to survive.

Positive role models

The four main characters demonstrate the value of bravery and loyalty. Despite their differences, they work together in the face of great obstacles and respect one another's talents.


Supporting characters, human and animal, are wounded during the course of the story, either stabbed or shot with an arrow. Although the descriptions are in no way graphic, the seriousness of these injuries is made clear. One character dies from his battle wounds, although not until he has lived happily for a number of years.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Down the Mysterly River is a clever, compelling fantasy adventure that will especially appeal to younger readers who are not yet ready for the author's hugely popular and critically acclaimed comics series, Fables.

What's the story?

A boy who calls himself Max the Wolf suddenly finds himself in an unfamiliar woods, without any memory of how he arrived there. Pursued by a pack of mysterious hunters and accompanied by a badger, a feral cat, and a bear, Max heads down river, seeking sanctuary in the castle of a wizard. As he and his companions fight for survival, Max begins to suspect that a terrible secret lies at the heart of his existence.

Is it any good?


DOWN THE MYSTERLY RIVER is a compelling fantasy adventure with a twist, an homage to books filled with talking animals, magical artifacts, and brave boys with well-honed detecting skills. Willingham employs the same rich sense of wonder that fuels Fables, his acclaimed comics series for older readers, but with a gentleness and good humor more appropriate for a younger audience.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how youth organizations such as the Boy Scouts prepare young people for safety in the wilderness. If you were suddenly lost in the woods, would you know the best methods for being rescued?

  • Max considers himself a master of detection. What are some of the methods that can be used to solve a mystery or puzzle (deduction, induction, etc.)?

  • The villains use magic swords to cut away what makes their victims unique. Why do some people prefer conformity over individuality?

Book details

Author:Bill Willingham
Illustrator:Mark Buckingham
Topics:Magic and fantasy
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Tor Books
Publication date:September 13, 2011
Number of pages:336

This review of Down the Mysterly River was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 13 years old Written byTripFoot October 1, 2012

Really good fantasy book

This is a very good fantasy, not very violent, and very exciting. It is funny too, and has some great characters. The ending is great. However, the only thing that bothered me was the worldbuilding, which was okay, except the elements didn't quite fit in. Also, the minor characters could have been a bit better. (Especially the Eggman, who could have been more mysterious. He could have been a bit more like Angela from Eragon, who was probably the best character out of tat series.) The idea of the world itself is good, I liked that twist, although because of it the writer can't give you more information about the world early on, so it seems a bit... unrealistic. I would recomend this book to kids who like a good fantasy-adventure with touches of humor. Kids who like animal books would also enjoy this, because while the animals aren't Redwall-y, they are still very humanlike in their speech and thought processes. (Like the warrior cats.) Even girls can enjoy this book (I'm a girl :) ) but I think boys would be better off reading it, since there are no major girl characters. (In fact there are like 3 females in there.) But it is recommended.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Kid, 12 years old November 21, 2011

A good fantasy; bordering on violence levels

Down the Mysterly River is a fun fantasy for older readers. Max "the Wolf" is intelligent and brave, putting his boy scout and detective skills to good use throughout the course of the story. McTavish the cat is probably my favourite character, but he is the world's worst role model EVER. McTavish is a NASTY barnyard cat who has risen to become "King of the Barnyard" through numerous fights. Incorporated in the story through Walden, the bear's, memories are bits of trickster tales, though Walden himself is the hopeless sheriff on whom the tricks are played. The story is rather violent, and multiple characters die or are injured. Also, a more philosophical form of violence, that some readers might find more disturbing, is what the "Blue Cutters" do. They "cut" out a creature's "self" and replace it with their own idea of what the "self" should be like. Boys may find this preferable, as all the female characters are villains, or unimportant.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Parent Written byMHOLL June 17, 2016

Great Read and Some Profanity

My 12-year-old is currently reading this book and he loves it. He's not a "reader" so that's saying a lot! But, we have been surprised by some profanity... only in a couple of spots so far, but we're only half-way through the book. Common Sense Media reports that there is no "Language" but that is incorrect. This would be rated PG-13 if it were a movie, due to the violence and language. Great read, but be aware.


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