The Dark Between the Trees - Book Review
by Fiona Barnett
I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. Thank you so much to the publisher, Solaris!
A glorious mash-up of genres, but still strongly situated in horror, The Dark Between The Trees taps into our most primal fears about being lost in the woods.
1643: A small group of Parliamentarian soldiers are ambushed in an isolated part of Northern England. Their only hope for survival is to flee into the nearby Moresby Wood... unwise though that may seem. For Moresby Wood is known to be an unnatural place, the realm of witchcraft and shadows, where the devil is said to go walking by moonlight...
Seventeen men enter the wood. Only two are ever seen again, and the stories they tell of what happened make no sense. Stories of shifting landscapes, of trees that appear and disappear at will... and of something else. Something dark. Something hungry.
Today, five women are headed into Moresby Wood to discover, once and for all, what happened to that unfortunate group of soldiers. Led by Dr. Alice Christopher, a historian who has devoted her entire academic career to uncovering the secrets of Moresby Wood. Armed with metal detectors, GPS units, mobile phones and the most recent map of the area (which is nearly 50 years old), Dr. Christopher's group enters the wood ready for anything.
Or so they think.
I guess the most important thing about a horror book is this: was it scary? It was scary enough. I wasn’t terrified out of my mind, but it’s very creepy and reading it at night definitely puts the heebie-jeebies into you.
The book is slow-burn, which I thought was great. I loved the mystery and the dual timelines - we get equal time with both the 1600s soldiers and the early-2000s historians. In fact, the timelines were one of the most interesting things about the novel, because it gave it a real historical fiction feel, and the way the stories ran parallel to one another, or rather spiralled into one another, was part of the fun. And my favourite horror stories are the ones that are set in the past.
The pacing is well-balanced in that while there are stretches of people just wandering in the woods, neither are these stretches too long that we grow bored, nor are they so short it feels like the group is not in danger.
A lot of the creepiness of the novel is based on not knowing what is going on or who or what is hunting them. The legends around the woods they are trapped in add to this, especially as the stories are often contradictory or unresolved.
The characters worked for me. I think in basic horror it’s sometimes best not to have very deep or fleshed-out characters because then you care about them too much. All I want are people with motivations that make sense and aren’t complete jerks. This book provides that - we do have jerk characters, but they are not the POV characters, and the others were distinguishable. There wasn’t a character I particularly cared about, but I was less interested in the people than what was going on with the woods.
The ending people might be torn about, but I like an ambiguous conclusion in horror. Sometimes too much explanation worries away at the scariness of it, like when you see a haunted house with the lights on. There’s also something fun about it being a mystery for centuries that still is not resolved, that, in ten, twenty years, perhaps another group will enter the woods. What will happen to them?
Overall, The Dark Between the Trees is a ponderous, atmospheric story in the vein of movies like Blair Witch, The Witch, and The Ritual, and I recommend it to those who like their horror more menacing than slasher, and with a historical fiction focus.