Monday 29 July 2019

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Review: The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees

The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees

The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees

Published: 12th March 2019 | Publisher: Delacorte | Cover Designer: Leo NichollsSource: Bought
Alyssa Wees' Website

The waking forest has secrets. To Rhea, it appears like a mirage, dark and dense, at the very edge of her backyard. But when she reaches out to touch it, the forest vanishes. She’s desperate to know more—until she finds a peculiar boy who offers to reveal its secrets. If she plays a game.

To the Witch, the forest is her home, where she sits on her throne of carved bone, waiting for dreaming children to beg her to grant their wishes. One night, a mysterious visitor arrives and asks her what she wishes for, but the Witch sends him away. And then the uninvited guest returns.

The strangers are just the beginning. Something is stirring in the forest, and when Rhea’s and the Witch’s paths collide, a truth more treacherous and deadly than either could ever imagine surfaces. But how much are they willing to risk to survive?
From Goodreads.

Trigger/Content Warnings: This book features creepy hallucinations, anxiety, death, grief, visceral descriptions - of a dead body, and, separately, of the chest cavity.

The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees was one of my most anticipated books of the year, but while I really enjoyed it, and adored the concept, I felt the story was let down by the ending.

So I've been wanting to read atmospheric and creepy stories for several weeks, and I finally got what I wanted with The Waking Forest! It's told from the points of view of Rhea and the Witch of Wishes. Rhea lives with her family, is home schooled, but has very strange reoccurring dreams. Dreams of walking up a spiral staircase, and reaching a door and she's just about to open it when she wakes up. Despite not sounding like much, this is a nightmare she's had for as long as she can remember; knowing she has to open the door, but absolutely dreading what she'll find on the other side. She sleep walks during this dream, and always wakes up at the top of the stair leading to the attic. But this time, she wakes up having opened the attic door - and sees her own dead body on the floor. Because as well as having strange dreams, she also has terrible, frightening hallucinations - including that of a forest at the end of her garden, where there is no forest. Despite the terrifying vision, she decides that night to sleep in the attic, hoping that as she's already in there, she won't have her dream. But what she doesn't expect is the breathing and the disembodied voice she can hear in the pitch black of the attic. There is a boy in the darkness who wants her to guess his name. After his appearance, strange things happen to her family.

The Witch of Wishes lives in the forest, granting wishes to children who visit her in their sleep. She grants wishes by opening up her chest, as in her heart grows a rose made of blood petals, bone stem, and tooth thorns. She takes a petal from her heart, puts it into the child's mouth, and their wish is granted. She does this over and over, all night, and at dawn, she sews her chest back up. There is a scream building in her, and constant, unending pain. Every second is agony. She she spends her days doing the only thing she knows to distract herself from the scream and the pain - she dances, with her fox companions frolicking around her. She is alone, but tells herself she is not lonely. She tells herself she has everything she could possibly wish for, in her palace made of bones in the middle of a forest. But one day a boy and his sister appears, but rather than make a wish, the boy asks her what she would wish for. She sends him away, but he returns as a black fox, and curious, the witch allows him to tell her about his world; history, culture myths and legends, and then a story about a princess who put herself into an enchanted sleep.

Mate this book is almost - almost - absolutely everything I have been wanting to read over the last few weeks! The writing is gorgeous and lyrical, completely enchanting. I was captivated from the very first page! And then there's the story itself, the Witch's story like a very dark fairy tale, and Rhea's, set in our own world, full of bad dreams, terrifying visions, voices in the dark. While dark, the Witch's story is beautiful and magical, but Rhea's has this uneasy feeling to it, a sinister vibe that runs throughout. And I loved the story within a story; the story of the princess who put herself into an enchanted sleep that the Fox Who Is Not a Fox tells the Witch was just as engrossing as what was going on with the Witch and Rhea. And with Rhea, even before things get too weird, her sisters, Rose, Raisa and Renata - who I adore - are kind of strange. They say the weirdest things! And Renata struggles to discern dream for reality, and doesn't seem to have her feet firmly on the floor, who reacts really badly if people don't know what she's talking about or tell her it was just a dream. And their mum believes dreams have meaning, and wants the girls to record their dreams in dream journals. There's definitely something odd going on in this family. But then the boy in the dark - the Darkness, as Rhea refers to him - turns up, and everything gets completely messed up.

Then there's what's really going on, and oh my god, it's amazing! I guessed what was happening with the Witch, but not with Rhea! The concept is just so, so awesome! It's so clever and twisty, and pretty mind blowing, and I absolutely loved it! That is until we got to Part 2 of the story. Once we have the big reveal, and we know what's going on, the second part of the story had so much potential! Mate, it could have been amazing! But while I was engrossed while reading it, looking back, it could have been so much more. The atmospheric and sinister vibe seemed to practically disappear. And while the second part is still dark and macabre, it wasn't as enchanting or magical in regards to the writing. And except for the final climatic moment, not a huge deal happens - it's all lead up to the climax. After the incredible, incredible beginning, I just felt quite let down by the ending. Part 1 was roughly two thirds of the book, with Part 2 being the last third, and I kind of feel that maybe this book should have been a duology, with the book book being kind of short compared to the length of most books, yes, but with Part 2 made longer, both in regards to length of the book but also in time scale within the story longer, and just developed more. In my opinion, everything that happens in Part 2 should be bigger; the things that happen that lead up to the climax should be major events in their own right. I just feel like Part 2 let the rest of the story down.

I did love, however, all the little nods scattered throughout the story to actual fairy tales and myths and legends - with Rhea herself even mentioning that the Darkness wanting Rhea to guess his name is similar to Rumpelstiltskin. That was really quite cute, and spotting them all was really enjoyable. And I loved the small elements of how real world mental illnesses were touched on within this fairy tale type story. No labels are used, but I'm pretty sure secondary characters have depression and PTSD. Though I am unsure what to make of Rhea's hallucinations given what's really going on. Yes, she hallucinates, but also anxiety - which I personally feel was done very well - and yes, there is mention that she has seen a therapist and has medication, but there's an actual reason for the hallucinations, and with the fact that there are people who do experience hallucinations, I'm not sure what to think about it. I don't know if it's a problem or not?

I am really super excited to read what Wees writes next, because for the most part, I adored this book! But I was let down by the ending, sadly. But do read other reviews before deciding whether or not you'll read this book yourself.

You might also like:

The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Over to you graphic
What are your favourite dark and macabre fairy tale-like stories? What books have you read feature the most beautiful writing? Will you be picking up The Waking Forest? Let me know in the comments!

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