In the Dark, In the Woods by Eliza Wass

Received from NetGalley for review.

‘The woods were insane in the dark, terrifying and magical at the same time. But best of all were the stars, which trumpeted their light into the misty dark.’

For me there is something utterly compelling about stories focusing on cults, whether they are community cults or those within a family. The extremism of belief fascinates me and baffles me at the same time, in the same way stories of murder and abuse do – they aren’t pleasant reads but there’s something about them that makes them that makes me unable to tear myself away, some morbid curiosity and revulsion. In the Dark, In the Woods had that effect on me; it was such a haunting story, filled with unhappiness and hurt, but I couldn’t stop reading it.

The story centres on six siblings: triplets Castley, Delvive, and Hannan, Mortimer, Caspar, and Jerusalem (Baby J), their crippled mother, and their controlling father who believes they are the chosen ones who will be returning to heaven. They are outcasts within society and at the school they have had to attend since an accident and police raid on their home, not that their father approves of this. It’s wonderfully creepy, not because anything supernatural happens but because of the power and control their father, Gabriel, exerts over the family – he has extreme beliefs and his rules are law. The family are both terrified and in awe of this man and it was easy to see why; although he is a controlling and abusive man he also exudes charm and classic movie star looks that the siblings are only just beginning to see through and become disenchanted by. They know no different and have only been exposed to a sense of normality through their school and secret excursions into the city.

I loved and felt so deeply for the siblings, even when they were acting like idiots – they live lives filled with fear but they are loyal to each other, protecting each other from their father’s wrath and trying to help each other, except when fear becomes too all encompassing. I can’t even imagine what it must be like living with so many rules and restrictions, with a father who thinks he knows and controls all – there’s a definite undercurrent of tension within the novel as you never know what Gabriel might decide to do next, especially as you know he believes they will be returning to their true home in heaven. It all felt so real to me; the siblings were filled with the confusion and frustration of being teenagers whilst being forced to live a very strange life that they realise isn’t the same as anyone else’s.

Castley was easily my favourite character, which could have been down to her being the narrator but I think it was more that she wasn’t afraid to try and live her life, even if she had to do it in secret to begin with. She was both brave and naïve, and even though most of the siblings had a rebellious streak despite how they had been brought up, Castley was the only one to really act out and defy her father – she had the strength to choose to live and to be herself. It was brilliant to see how she grew and changed throughout the book as she realised that maybe her father wasn’t right about everything, even if the idea terrified her as much as it liberated her. She was so conflicted but that made her all the more human and relatable.

In the Dark, In the Woods is an extremely dark read, exploring the most horrendous parts of the human mind, but it’s also a very good one – it’s intense and absorbing in the best way. It reminded me of The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly and Blood and Salt; disturbing reads that get under your skin and have you caring and hoping for the characters within them. I think Eliza Wass is an author I will be revisiting in the future as she publishes more books.

Read: April 7th-8th 2016

4/5 stars

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