This book was so much fun! I can’t wait for the sequel!
Do not go into the Darkwood, children. It’s a cursed place, and so big and so dangerous that once you go in you’ll never come out again. You’ll become just another lost creature, aimlessly wandering amongst those black and twisted trees forever. Even the dead aren’t safe in the Darkwood. Nobody is safe.
Gretel lives in Nearby Village with her twin, Hansel, and their stepparents. Unfortunately for Gretel, she’s female so she must be very careful how she behaves, lest she be branded as a witch. Worse still, she’s smart, using maths, physics and engineering to design marvellous defences that protect Nearby from the scary monsters who live across the river in the Darkwood. Yep, she’s got to be a witch if she knows maths!
Accused of the abomination of witchcraft by Huntsmen, Gretel winds up in the Darkwood, where she’s faced with the terrifying creatures she’s been warned about her entire life. Witches like Buttercup, who can turn inanimate objects into baked goods with her touch; sometimes even on purpose! People like Jack, who can make plants grow at will. There’s also a magical talking spider called Trevor, who is a master of disguise. They’re not exactly the villains she thought they were. Then there’s the White Knight who, well, can be kind of abrasive, actually.
It’s up to Gretel and this diverse bunch of magical outcasts to find a way to protect both the Darkwood and Nearby Village from the ruling Huntsmen, who may well be the true villains in this story.
With action, humour and some magical mayhem, Gabby Hutchinson Crouch reimagines some well known fairy tale characters and places them in situations where they need to use their combined talents, inventiveness and wit to challenge the roles they’ve been cast in by those in power.
The characters were well rounded, a wonderful blend of scared and courageous, damaged and determined, flawed and resilient. This wasn’t a tale with just one shining star; everyone was interesting in their own way, although I admit I was quite partial to Trevor, the talking spider. I mean, come on, he wears sunglasses as one of his disguises! How adorable is that?!
On the surface this is a highly entertaining tale that makes you want to cheer on the underdogs. Scratch the surface though and you’ll learn (or be reminded of) some valuable lessons in what it means to be human. Despite tackling themes of how we dehumanise those we categorise as ‘other’ and the corruption that can grow unchecked when those in power are not held accountable, I never felt I was being preached at.
There’s so much of the Darkwood and its surrounding towns and villages still to explore. I can’t wait to get to know the Swamp Mermaids more, finally meet the bear and wolf witches of the north, and visit the eastern woods.
‘What’s in the eastern woods?’ ‘You don’t want to know.’
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Farrago, an imprint of Prelude Books, for the opportunity to read this book. Oh, and a final word of warning: if you follow these characters into the Darkwood, make sure you adhere to the usual Bin Night precautions!
Once Upon a Blurb
You mustn’t go into the Darkwood, children. Not even to get your ball. Leave it. That ball belongs to the Witches and the Beasties, now. Those wicked Witches. Stealing your ball. Magic is forbidden in Myrsina, along with various other abominations, such as girls doing maths.
This is bad news for Gretel Mudd, who doesn’t perform magic, but does know a lot of maths. When her clever inventions prompt the sinister masked Huntsmen who run the country to accuse her of Witchcraft, she is forced to flee into the neighbouring Darkwood, where all the Witches and Monsters dwell.
There, she happens upon Buttercup, a Witch who can’t help turning things into gingerbread, Jack Trott, who can make plants grow at will, the White Knight with her band of Dwarves and a talking spider called Trevor. These aren’t the terrifying villains she’s been warned about all her life. They’re actually quite nice. Well … most of them.
With the Huntsmen on the warpath, Gretel must act fast to help the Witches save both the Darkwood and her home village, while unravelling the rhetoric and lies that have demonised magical beings for far too long.