Buy Into the Heartless Wood
Regular price: $19.71
Publisher: Page Street
Reviewer: Melissa on Jan. 9, 2021
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I requested Into the Heartless Wood for two reasons. The beautiful, illustrated cover and because I’d previously read and loved another title by the same publisher, The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar, so I thought I’d take a chance on this dark fantasy about a tree siren and a human boy who fall in love after she saves his life over and over. I’m glad I decided to stretch outside of my reading comfort zone for Joanna Ruth Meyer’s novel as it’s a beautiful story about the nature of monstrosity, love, and sacrifice.
Into the Heartless Wood plays with a reversal of the “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale, but it goes beyond a strict adherence to that tale as old as time. Owen has lived directly beside the wood filled will tree sirens that bring people to their deaths for at least a couple of years, ever since the king hired his father to give him monthly astronomical charts. A year before the novel began, he lost his mom to the sirens’ call, and his father had never been the same. But Owen happily picks up the slack—doing the astronomical charts, caring for his two-year old sister, Awela, and cooking—while his father wanders through his grief.
Despite his father’s uncertainty and the knowledge that the woods are encroaching on the train tracks, he takes a train to a nearby kingdom to deliver the astronomical charts as he does every year. That is until the train he is on is derailed by a siren with violets in her hair, and he sees her violently kill all the other passengers and steal their souls. Owen is terrified that he will be next, but then she spares his life. Not just once, but several times. And not just him, but his little sister, too. Through this experience, Owen’s idea of what makes someone a monster begins to shift; he begins to see the tree siren, who he names Seren, as beautiful and not dangerous. Monstrosity becomes something that you choose to be, not something that you are innately. And it’s not something that correlates to one’s physical appearance—even human beings can be monsters if they have an evil intention or actions.
That said, it’s not as simple as Owen changing his perspective. In addition, Meyer uses Mary Shelley’s trick from Frankenstein by allowing Seren to tell part of the story through her own POV. By giving Seren a voice and an internal monologue, Meyer ensures that the audience will develop sympathy for the tree siren at the same time that Owen begins to sympathize with her.
Beyond the theme of monstrosity, this love story is one full of sympathy, betrayal, sacrifice, family, friendship, and loyalty. There are moments that are absolutely horrifying and heartbreaking, but more than anything it’s a very compelling read. I didn’t want to put it down. No book is perfect though. In this case, there was a short time in part one where I felt it could’ve been a little shorter. It seemed like Owen and Seren were on the route to falling in love, but it was far too early in the story for that to happen without major consequences, and I didn’t understand what those might be. Once the established pattern in the story changed, however, I was right back to being glued to the page.
If you love YA fantasies, YA retellings, or books that explore complex themes, then Into the Heartless Wood, a mostly, fast-paced read, will have you glued to the page, too. Pick it up on release day!
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