“Five women in a Land Rover, heading out towards the distant treetops.“
A group of academics arrive at a fenced-off forest, unexplored for decades due to strange happenings: some kind of magnetic field is disrupting compasses, for a start. They’re there – oh so prepared, they think – to try to find evidence of a 17th century group of soldiers that disappeared after a civil war skirmish. Seventeen men entered the woods, but only two came out – with disquieting, fever-dream stories.
Alternating chapters tell their story, while the present day thread follows the women and their personal conflicts as their own expedition also takes a strange and deadly turn…
I suppose I need to come clean, that I actually know the author – we were in the same NaNoWriMo group! So slightly torn between my ego needing this book to be awful (joke!), and hoping that I didn’t have to swerve talking to Fiona in the future lest she asked what I thought 😉
Alas – but really hurrah! – the book is not awful. It’s pretty bloddy great, in fact (and no no, that’s not me turning greenish ;)). It’s a slow burn of parallel stories, getting creepier and darker, and revealing all sorts of psychological ticks to the characters. Soldiers battling with the idea of how they’ve lived their lives; an academic so obsessed with finding the truth to this centuries-long mystery and decades-long professional slights; a post-doc student struggling with common sense versus authority. It’s such a great twist on horror stories, where you’re often left screaming “Why would you do that?!” – well, here are some reasons.
I’m a giant wuss when it comes to horror, so I stuck to reading this in the daytime. It didn’t give me nightmares, though – it’s creepy and unsettling but not too much for a weakling like me.
My single complaint – which I’ve seen in other reviews – is that this isn’t the kind of book that hands you all the answers at the end. I get it, and it does work, but there is always that itch to know all the gritty details. But it’s a minor itch, still more than plenty to totally engross you in the story, following both groups into … well, you’ll just have to read it 😉
(And: hugely well done Fiona. You’ve done the ‘Beans’ proud 🙂 Here’s to the next books!)
NetGalley eARC: 352 pages / 25 chapters
First published: 11th October 2022
Read from 10th-14th July 2022
My rating: 8/10