Published by Allen and Unwin on September 26, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
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What the Woods Keep is the stunning debut of Katya de Becerra, who combines mystery, science fiction, and dark fantasy in a twisty story that will keep you mesmerized right up to the final page.
On her eighteenth birthday, Hayden inherits her childhood home - on the condition that she uncover its dark secrets.
Hayden tried to put the past behind her, and it worked. She's getting ready for college, living in a Brooklyn apartment, and hanging out with her best friend and roommate Del. But now it's all catching up with her: her mother's mysterious disappearance a decade before, her father's outlandish theories about a lost supernatural race, and Hayden's own dark dreams of strange symbols and rituals in the Colorado woods where she grew up.
As soon as Hayden arrives at her hometown, her friend Del in tow, it begins: Neighbors whisper secrets about Hayden's mother; the boy next door is now all grown-up in a very distracting way; and Hayden feels the trees calling to her. And among them, deep in the woods, Hayden will discover something incredible -something that threatens reality itself.
I don’t usually read dark fantasy or mystery novels… simply because they creep me out. But I decided to give What the Woods Keep a try because of the scientific concepts and science-minded protagonist, and the fact that it is a #loveozya debut novel. I have to say that I don’t really know how I feel about this book. This is probably mostly because I’m just not used to the genres and style of the novel, but I did enjoy the book overall.
What the Woods Keep follows 18-year-old, Hayden, who has always been surrounded by strange happenings. She grew up in the small town of Promise, Colorado, but moved to New York with her father when she was a young child, after her mother mysteriously disappeared in the woods behind her childhood home. Despite moving to New York to protect Hayden from her past, her life hasn’t really gotten better, with her father losing his job as a university physics professor due to some outlandish theories about a supernatural race, and Hayden being homeschooled after a horrible incident at school. When Hayden turns 18, she inherits her childhood home in Colorado from her mother, along with some strange clues and messages. She makes a trip to Promise with her roommate, Del, and things get a bit strange from there…
That’s probably all I can say about the plot since this is a mystery novel. Overall, I liked the plot of the novel though I had some issues with the pacing and world building. I found the first two-thirds of the book to be quite slow, and I think it was missing some peaks and climaxes throughout the book. I found myself to be interested in everything that was happening but not particularly engaged. There would be hints of something about to happen, but then we’d have a scene where the characters were just eating food or bantering about personal style. It was pretty frustrating and I think I would have enjoyed the novel a lot more if it had more tension in certain parts and was slightly more thrilling. Having said that, I thought the book was properly creepy and I’m not sure how much more thrill my cowardly heart could have taken. My main issue with the novel was probably the world building. I’m still a little bit confused about some aspects of the world that is mentioned in the book. I understand that we’re supposed to be figuring everything out with Hayden as she discovers the secrets, but I feel like it wasn’t relayed to the reader very well. It just needed a lot more explanation and set up, and I think the novel missed a really great opportunity to educate us more on the Germanic mythology that it alludes to.
The last part of the novel was a bit too fast-paced for me. It was hard to understand what was happening and I really wished the entire novel could have been better-paced. I was also caught off-guard by the way some of the chapters ended and found it jarring how some of them left off on a really mundane scene, while others always ended in a suspenseful manner. That’s a bit nit-picky though because, for the most part, I enjoyed the writing style immensely.
Hayden as a character was good, but not a standout character for me. I did love that she was science-minded, being a STEM lady myself, and I really enjoyed the little explanations of scientific theories and phenomena in each chapter. There just wasn’t anything more for me to latch on to when it came to Hayden’s character (or any of the other characters really). She seemed like a strong, sensible and logical person and that’s pretty much all I can say about her. It was also difficult for me to know which characters I could trust in the novel, which made it really hard for me to relate to any of them.
While What the Woods Keep isn’t a novel that I would typically reach for, I’m happy that I gave it a chance. I enjoyed the story and themes, but had a bit of trouble with the world building and pacing. I can’t say that I was mesmerised and hooked by the book, but I would recommend it if you’re looking for a dark urban fantasy, mixed with science fiction and mystery.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for providing a review copy of the book!
What the Woods Keep is available at all Australian retailers, from 26th September 2018, for RRP$16.99.
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