In Darkling Wood

In Darkling Wood

Please note that the following review is based on an advanced reader copy that I received from the publisher and therefore may contain slight differences to the finished work.

In Darkling Wood was written by Emma Carroll and is due for release on 2nd July. It is a fantasy story suitable for middle graders and young teens which is loosely inspired by the Cottingley Faerie photographs. In Darkling Wood is the author’s third novel, yet is a stand-alone story and so you don’t need to have read Frost Hollow Hall or the The Girl Who Walked On Air to fully enjoy this book.

As her brother Theo is suddenly whisked into hospital for a heart transplant, Alice finds herself sent off to stay in the country with Nell, a Grandmother that she barely knows. With no internet or television, Alice quickly finds herself wishing that she was with the rest of the family but she soon changes her mind as she ventures into the dense forest that surrounds her Grandmother’s home.

It is in Darkling Wood that Alice meets Flo, a strange girl who believes that faeries live amongst the trees. Nell plans on having the entire wood cut down as the tree roots are damaging her home but Flo insists that doing so will anger the faeries, forcing them to extract their revenge. The only way to appease the faeries is to somehow stop the woods from being destroyed. Flo claims that Alice is the one who can do that but only if she believes in faeries.

Back in 1918, a little girl writes to her brother who has gone to war. She is sick of her mother’s attempts to make her behave like a lady as she would like nothing more than to spend her days playing in the woods. Yet her life is about to change. As she too discovers the faeries of Darkling Wood, she seeks to find a way to prove their existence to her family. However, some things are better left hidden…

In Darkling Wood was a far deeper novel than I originally gave it credit for. In the early chapters, I felt that everything seemed to be a bit too black and white. There was the heroine being sent off to live with her wicked Grandmother, a woman who would chop down an entire forest because a few of the trees are endangering her home. There was Alice’s Dad, the man who is so engrossed in his new life that he would not even show up on time to visit his critically ill son in hospital. There were the people of Bexton who all automatically hate Alice because she is related to Nell. While I initially rolled my eyes at these cookie-cutter elements, within the space of just a few chapters I was forced to completely evaluate my opinion on the story.

Our initial view of the events is shown through Alice’s eyes and therefore is a very narrow view of reality. Alice is scared. She wants to be with her brother and knows that she is being kept in the dark about his treatment. Instead, she’s forced to live with someone who seems completely insensitive and does not even ask about how her brother is feeling. However, as the days pass, Alice begins to see that she has been blinded by her worry for Theo. The people around her are suffering too, struggling with their own issues. As the novel progresses and the backgrounds of the principal cast are revealed, the reasons for their actions suddenly make a great deal more sense.

At its core, In Darkling Wood is not really a story about faeries. Although they connect all aspects of the story, from the 1918 letters to Alice’s struggles in present day, they are more a symbol for the importance of hope and belief. The faeries are not important in themselves. Why they are important is that they give people something nice and inherently good to believe in, which in turn gives them to strength to face the terrible things that blight their everyday life. Both Alice and the author of the letters are waiting for news of a brother’s wellbeing – whether it is his return home from War or his recovery from a serious operation – and their belief in the faeries of Darkling Wood helps them get through their difficult situations through the faith that there is still something better out there.

Because of this, the novel is at times very sad. This is not one of those stories where belief is enough to carry the characters through every situation. Bad things do happen to undeserving people and, because of this, the novel still feels as though it is grounded firmly in reality. Because just hoping that things will be okay is not always enough to make it so, the novel does have a bittersweet edge as some of the things that happened to Alice and the girl who wrote the letters are heartbreaking, but ultimately the message of the novel is very uplifting and I left me feeling very warm inside.

My absolute favourite thing about this story was its characters. The novel is fantastically written and I very quickly found myself empathising with Alice. She’s such a thoughtful and caring girl that it’s very difficult not to. Although she has found herself in a pretty miserable situation and desperately wants to be with her mother and Theo, she knows that her family is going through a hard time and that she must be brave so as not to put any more pressure on them. For me, this is the mark of a strong female character. She might not be forthright and physically imposing but she has the strength of will to understand how the people around her are feeling and to do all that she can to make life easier for them, even if it means that she can’t have what she wants.

The girl who writes the letters is also incredibly likable and I had to admire her optimism, refusing to stop writing to her brother even if she did not know if he was alive or dead. Her situation held up a mirror to Alice’s as, although their lives and situations were very different, both of them took comfort in similar things and tried their hardest to keep their spirits high even in their darkest hours. Beyond her there were a number of secondary characters who also felt incredibly well fleshed out. Although some of them seemed a little shallow in the beginning (I already mentioned Nell the evil Grandmother), the twists and turns of the story reveal hidden depths to their characters, which in turn make their actions and attitudes seem all the more realistic.

So, all in all, I really do recommend In Darkling Wood as it’s a very thought-provoking novel for middle graders and young teens. It had a very strong female protagonist, addressed a number of difficult themes and carried a very uplifting message about how hope and belief have the power to bring light to a dark situation. I had never heard of Carroll before I agreed to review this book but now I’m definitely going to have to keep an eye out for more of her work.

In Darkling Wood is due for release on 2nd July 2015 and is currently available to pre-order on Amazon.co.uk

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