This was a random purchase. I was in the bookstore browsing the shelves when I saw this gorgeous cover peeking out at me. I took the book down, admired the cover, and read a bit of it to see if I should purchase it. I immediately fell for the writing and left the store with the book. When the NEWTs Magical Readathon rolled around, I decided to settle down and read the story. I liked it.
In this contemporary fantasy, the grieving biographer of a Victorian fantasist finds himself slipping inexorably into the supernatural world that consumed his subject.
American Charles Hayden came to England to forget the past.
Failed father, failed husband, and failed scholar, Charles hopes to put his life back together with a biography of Caedmon Hollow, the long-dead author of a legendary Victorian children’s book, In the Night Wood. But soon after settling into Hollow’s remote Yorkshire home, Charles learns that the past isn’t dead.
In the neighboring village, Charles meets a woman he might have loved, a child who could have been his own lost daughter, and the ghost of a self he thought he’d put behind him.
And in the primeval forest surrounding Caedmon Hollow’s ancestral home, an ancient power is stirring. The horned figure of a long-forgotten king haunts Charles Hayden’s dreams. And every morning the fringe of darkling trees presses closer.
Soon enough, Charles will venture into the night wood.
Soon enough he’ll learn that the darkness under the trees is but a shadow of the darkness that waits inside us all. (Goodreads)
“Erin feared forgetting. Charles longed for it.”
In the Night Wood was a compulsive read that I could barely break from. The story is dark and sad but ends with a note of hope.
It’s about a couple whose marriage seems irrevocably broken and who are drawn together and held together only by their grief. But although they grieve for the same person, they do so separately. Erin, the mother, numbs the pain of loss with prescription pills while longing for her child and losing herself in the dark drawings she creates of the Eorl Wood, which surrounds Hollow House, the Yorkshire home she has inherited, seeming to grow closer to the manor each day, threatening to overpower or choke it. Charles, the father, bottles up his emotions, bars them, hides them away and tries to move on with what could have been. The couple and the remaining workers at their manor are haunted by guilt the manor, or is it the Eorl Wood, seem to exacerbate.
There’s something mysterious about the story — about the wood, the Eorl Wood. A young girl disappears near the wood when the Haydens move to Hollow House, and the wood seems sentient and sometimes one glimpses dark shapes and mischievous faces in it. Of course, the latter could just be a trick of the eyes and shadows cast by the trees, but there’s no doubting that there’s something peculiar about the wood. When Charles asks about town, he’s told the Eorl Wood is sometimes called Elf Wood and locals say fairies live in it and sometimes kidnap children and carry them off to their world.
Charles finds this hard to believe, but the longer he stays at Hollow House and learns about its former tenants and explores the surrounding wood, the more he and his wife struggle with their grief while living there, the more he realizes that the Eorl Wood may be more than it seems and there might be something within it that wants something from them.
This was a great read. I was compelled by the story and drawn in by the writing, which I admired. It hooked me from the first sentence, and from then I knew I would love the book. The story has a fairytale quality to it that heightens its peculiarity. This is helped along by the mysteriousness of the Eorl Wood and the local lore about Hollow House and the man who built it, Caedmon Hollow.
The mystery, the lore, the shadowy figures, and restricted primeval forest combined to make In the Night Wood quite the unexpected read. I didn’t expect it to have a bit of mystery that would lead the characters to figure out a secret code that alludes to classical texts and use the clues to unravel Caedmon Hollow and learn how exactly he is linked to the wood, if not only through the children’s book he wrote about it. I didn’t expect the note of hope at the end reminding readers it’s possible to push through dark periods, learn and heal from it, and arrive at another beginning. I didn’t expect it to be the wonder it is, but I’m grateful I got to experience it and know that I will return to read it again.
Overall: ★★★★☆ ½
It’s a great read that I highly recommend if you like contemporary fantasy with a twist of dark fairytale, and descriptive writing that will easily sweep you up in the setting.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
I think it’s worth owning but that’s because I like the cover and know that I’ll reread it.