Hello Humans! Today’s review is for a book that truly surprised me with just how engrossing it was. Dale Bailey’s In the Night Wood (not to be confused with In the Night Garden) is a fantasy book that managed to make me shed more than a few tears while reading. I’m not the biggest fan of contemporary fantasy so the fact that this won me around is truly impressive. I’m excited to share my thoughts with you.
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 neighbouring 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 primaeval 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.
CW: Drug/drink addiction, Suicide attempt, infant death
The overwhelming feeling I had while reading this was ‘well this is like the older brother to The Hazel Wood’ which is, for the most part, an accurate statement. The two differ quite heavily in terms of actual content and their varying levels of ‘darkness’ but that idea of an obscure book of fairytales turning out to have some kind of basis in truth, as well as the connection to a particular forest – the connection is uncanny. I’d say if you enjoyed The Hazel Wood and you’re comfortable with dealing with some of the more difficult themes in this book then it might be a good match!
This does have that contemporary fantasy trope of being far more about the married couple and grief than it was about the fantasy elements (though they came into their own in the latter part of the book). The majority of the book is dedicated to exploring the relationship between this couple and the grief they are going through. It’s about broken people trying to find some meaning and to put their lives back together – or just trying to hold themselves together a little longer. There are moments that are truly heartwrenching and the pain these characters go through is almost tangible at times. Set against this creepy fantasy story and the primaeval forest it somehow exacerbates that story.
I won’t spoil the end, but I will say that things escalate pretty quickly, it doesn’t feel poorly paced, but I did think the ending was left quite open, which may affect how different people read this book. I personally don’t mind an open ending (I tend to just assume that whatever the happiest ending is happens because I’m an eternal optimist) but other readers may feel differently.
I binge-read this book in an afternoon, Bailey manages to drip-feed just the right amount of information as the book goes on, keeping you hooked, turning page after page in the hope that all will be revealed. Whether it be the mystery of what brought this couple to England or what is happening in the village and in the Night Wood itself, they all tie together into a thoroughly engaging page-turner.
I ended up giving this book five stars, though normally I think books like this couldn’t really push more than four stars for me, just from genre preference, I think the fact that this book was so engaging – I couldn’t stop reading it, and the overall vibe of the book is so strong I just thought it was great. Possibly I wouldn’t feel the same way after a re-read (without that need to know what was happening) but I don’t really re-read anyway!
My rating: 5/5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Will you be reading In the Night Wood? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!