Monday, August 12, 2013

Review: The White Forest

Title: The White Forest
Author: Adam McOmber
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9781451664263
Touchstone / Simon & Schuster
Published: 2013
Genre: Fantasy / Urban fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

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Jane Silverlake lives with her father in a crumbling family estate on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Jane has a secret—an unexplainable and frightening gift that allows her to see the souls of man-made objects—and this talent isolates her from the outside world. She finds solace in her only companions, Madeline and Nathan, but as the friends come of age, their idyll is shattered by jealousies and by Nathan’s interest in a cult led by Ariston Day, a charismatic mystic popular with London’s elite.

A year later, Nathan has vanished, and the famed Inspector Vidocq arrives in London to untangle the events that led up to Nathan’s disappearance. As a sinister truth emerges, Jane realizes she must discover the origins of her talent, and use it to find Nathan herself, before it’s too late.

After getting lost in the world of the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin for the last couple of weeks I needed a change of pace (or at the very least a story where fewer of my favourite characters meet a gruesome end). The premise of The White Forest by Adam McOmber sounded intriguing and I’m glad that I put my reservations about the historical setting aside, because it ended up being a wonderfully weird read.

Set in Victorian era London it tells the story of three friends Jane Silverlake, Madeline Lee and Nathan Ashe and how their friendship spirals out of control when Jane shares her gift, the ability to hear the souls of man-made objects, with them. Nathan becomes obsessed with Jane’s gift leading him into the clutches of Ariston Day, the leader of an enigmatic cult. When Nathan disappears Jane and Maddy must unravel what happened to him, in doing so Jane discovers astounding truths about herself and her ability; truths that will irrevocably change the lives of the three companions forever.

The White Forest is beautifully written. McOmber has a knack for imagery that brings both the characters and the landscape to vivid life.

“He was tall and threatening-looking, no more than eighteen, with a hard thin mouth and dark circles under his eyes. His black hair stuck up in whorls and spikes, making him look like something dredged from the bottom of the Thames.” (p 61)

“Winter leaves, fallen from the surrounding oaks, floated on the surface of the pool, and desiccated vines navigated the statuary like the dried arteries of a riverbed.” (p 206)

The characters are all compelling, each flawed in their own way. The narrative is laced with touches of the otherworldly, a blend of occultism, spiritualism and mythology, that becomes more and more apparent as the story unfolds, culminating in a startling surreal revelation that you’ll have to experience for yourself to appreciate.

The pacing in The White Forest is both its greatest asset and biggest downfall. The story unfolds very slowly as Jane and Maddy investigate Nathan’s disappearance. This slow progression manages to convey the much more sedate Victorian lifestyle, but can become irritating at times. It’s only in the last third of the novel where things really pick up as the story rushes to its fantastical conclusion.

Aside from the issue I had with the pacing I really enjoyed The White Forest. It’s not often that you come across a story that can surprise you by being nothing like you expected it to be. And I mean that in the best possible way.

The Verdict:
The White Forest is a beautifully written genre-bending Gothic tale which entwines the mundane world with the otherworldly. What starts out as a simple mystery soon turns into something far more startling and fantastical. The pacing is slow at times, but the wonderfully weird ending makes it well worth the effort. If you are looking for something different, something dark, surreal and unique, then The White Forest might be just the thing.

The Rating: 7 (Very Good)

1 comment:

  1. Sounds good! You got my attention when you mentioned historical setting :)


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