Darkwood #3: Glass Coffin – Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

‘Something’s afoot,’ mutters Trevor. ‘I can feel it in my knees.’

Welcome to the Darkwood, a place where Bin Night is a truly terrifying event, where ‘fruit’ and ‘trousers’ are entirely acceptable swear adjacent words and where your favourite person may well be a talking spider called Trevor. It’s the final book in the trilogy and I’m not okay with that. Not even a little bit.

We first met Gretel when she ended up in the Darkwood after being accused of the abomination of witchcraft by the Huntsmen. There she met some of the scary, no good creatures she’d been warned about:

  • Buttercup, a witch whose touch can cakeify inanimate objects.
  • Jack, known throughout the land as the infamous giant killer.
  • The White Knight, an axe-wielding, armour wearing woman with attitude and her entourage of “Yummy!” dwarves.
  • Patience, who was a huntsman before she became a ghost.
  • Mirror, who’s a mirror.
  • Trevor, my favourite character. Trevor’s a spy and master of disguise.

Along the way we picked up some more found family, including:

  • Gilde the Bear Witch.
  • A Werewolf named Scarlett.
  • A winged man named Hex.

Magic forest – these things happen.

Together, this bunch of misfits have been working towards freedom for magical beings, who aren’t the abominations they’ve been made out to be, and uniting magical and non-magical beings. That’s definitely not going to happen under the rule of the Huntsmen.

Whatever it is they’ve been building up to, they’re doing it now.

In this book we finally travel to the Badlands of Ashtrie to meet the much feared Glass Witch. She lived up to my expectations, and then some. This is a book where facing the past is something many of our favourites will need to do. A number will also confront their fears of not being good enough, brave enough or enough in general. They have the opportunity to decide who they are going to be, outside of the roles cast on them by society. The Glass Witch is the perfect character to introduce to this mix.

‘Just keep in mind, the only thing you can truly be sure of regarding the Glass Witch is that you can’t be truly sure of anything.’

Our beloved friends will need all of their courage and ingenuity to prevail in this final battle. Although there were still some giggles to be had, things have a darker feel here than in the previous two books. Even Trevor isn’t coming up with as many unforgettable lines. But it’s okay because we’re really at the business end of things now and there is so much to wrap up.

This world turns what you thought you knew about fairy tales on their head. What other third act do you know that begins with the main character getting her first period?! Also, there are many more naked people in this book, for reasons that will become apparent when you read it.

If you’re wandering into the Darkwood for the first time you’ll find a handy description of who’s who in the Darkwood, Nearby Village, the Citadel and Ashtrie before you begin the story. I would highly recommend reading the series in order though.

‘You can allow yourself to heal, put your past behind you…’

In considering my not being ready to say goodbye to these characters I tried to come up with a reason for their story to continue and I think I’ve got just the thing … a spin-off featuring Trevor and his adventures in the Intelligence & National Security Initiative. I would happily read about my favourite spider forever.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Farrago, an imprint of Duckworth Books, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The tyrannous Huntsmen have declared everyone in one village to be outlaws, since they insist on supporting the magical beings of neighbouring Darkwood. Why won’t they accept that magic is an abomination?

Far from being abominable, the residents of Darkwood are actually very nice when you get to know them, even Snow the White Knight, who can get a bit tetchy when people remind her she’s a Princess.

In order to stop the Huntsmen from wiping out all magical beings, Snow and her friends have to venture into the Badlands of Ashtrie, and seek the support of the Glass Witch – but she has plans of her own, and let’s just say they’re not good ones.

Darkwood #2: Such Big Teeth – Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

If you are courageous enough to venture into the Darkwood today, you’ll find witches and beasties. The people of Myrsina have been terrified of its inhabitants for a very long time. The huntsmen have encouraged this fear, as well as ensuring the list of abominations that keep the non-magical folk of Myrsina on a short leash continues to grow. Gretel used to fear the Darkwood as well, until she was banished there for being a witch.

Having now lived amongst Darkwood’s witches and beasties, she realises they’re not all as scary as she was led to believe. Although, to be fair, Bin Night is actually pretty scary. Gretel has been welcomed into a sort of functional/dysfunctional found family and they’re about to brave the north to try to recruit help for their upcoming battle against the masked huntsmen.

Witches live in this house. With a spider. Oh, and it’s haunted.

Travelling from their partially edible home in the woods are:

  • Gretel, who I’ve already mentioned. She’s the Mudd witch (not actually a witch).
  • Buttercup, who cakeifies inanimate objects when she touches them, usually accidentally.
  • Jack: botanist extraordinaire.
  • Snow, an axe-wielding, armour wearing princess.
  • Dwarves. “Yummy!”. No, they’re not edible. You need to read the book to understand why they’re so yummy.
  • Patience, who once upon a time was a huntsman, but is now a ghost.
  • Trevor: talking spider, spy and all round master of disguises. We love Trevor!

‘And then there’ll be a masked ball and I’ll go in disguise and all the ladies will be like “who is that dashing man?” And I’ll be all “ha ha! It’s me! Trevor the spider and not a man at all!”’

Meanwhile, Hansel, Gretel’s twin brother, and Daisy, Gretel’s friend, are on their own journey. Hansel didn’t have a great deal of page time in the first book and it was really fun getting to know him.

Holding up a mirror to the world both inside and outside of Myrsina (oh, there’s also a character called Mirror, who is … a mirror), this sequel uses humour to address divisiveness and discrimination in society, highlighting ways that social and legal frameworks attempt to demonise anyone that’s considered ‘other’. It also gives voice to those who aren’t in positions of power, while encouraging magical and non-magical folk alike to fight back against injustice and change the system.

‘We have to stop listening to the stories telling us to fear what’s in the Darkwood. We are the Darkwood.’

As soon as I opened this book my brain delighted in shouting, “Bin Night!” Yes, I know we’ve established that Bin Night isn’t exactly something to be delighted about, but it was one of my takeaway phrases from Darkwood. Like so many elements in that story, including fairytale characters that I thought I knew well enough that they couldn’t possibly have the capacity to surprise me, Bin Night was not what I imagined when I first learned of its existence. It had humour, some danger and what I thought I knew before I began reading was turned on its head.

Although I hadn’t heard that it was on its way, as soon as I spotted David Wardle’s cover image I knew it could only be heralding the Darkwood sequel I had been waiting for. While I met plenty of new characters in both the north and the Citadel, they strode into my imagination almost fully formed. I didn’t have to work to get to know them or to visualise the new locations I travelled to.

Although the north was not what I’d been expecting, that wasn’t a bad thing and it was certainly worth the wait. I’m already anticipating learning more about the Glass Witch, who I’ll need to cross the river and travel to the eastern woods to meet. Trousers! This wait is going to be a “pain in the gooseberries.”

I definitely recommend reading this series in order, lest you unknowingly wander into spoiler territory. You really need the foundations that Darkwood provides for a lot of the humour in this book to work best and for the ways the characters interact with one another to make sense.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Farrago, an imprint of Duckworth Books, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

If you go down to the woods today, be sure of a big surprise.

The Battle of Nearby Village is over, and deep in the Darkwood, Gretel and her friends journey into the hostile mountains of the north, seeking new allies in their fight against the huntsmen. There they find Gilde the Bear Witch, along with a Werewolf named Scarlett and a winged man named Hex. Meanwhile, Hansel and Daisy set off on a dangerous trip of their own to the Citadel, where they end up in the middle of a political battle for the future of the whole country.

Can Gretel and her friends persuade Gilde to join forces, or at least stop fighting them at every step? Can Hansel find a way to heal the land’s divisions and make the huntsmen change their ways before disaster strikes them all? And how did Trevor the spider get hold of a wig? Discover the answers to all these questions and more in Such Big Teeth. Venture into the Darkwood in this modern fairy tale that will bewitch adults and younger readers alike.

Darkwood – Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

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!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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.