When she turns eighteen, Hayden inherits her childhood home—on the condition that she uncovers its dark secrets.
Hayden tried to put the past behind her, but now it’s all catching up with her: her mother’s mysterious disappearance a decade ago, her father’s outlandish theories about a lost supernatural race called the Nibelungs, and Hayden’s own dark dreams of strange symbols and rituals in the Colorado woods where she grew up.
As soon as Hayden arrives at her hometown, her friend Del in tow, it begins: Neighbors whisper secrets about Hayden’s mother; the boy next door is now all grown-up in a very distracting way; and Hayden feels the trees calling to her. And among them, deep in the woods, Hayden will discover something incredible—something that threatens reality itself.
I spent a really long time debating whether I wanted to give this 4 or 4.5 stars, and eventually I gave up and just decided I wanted to round up because I ultimately enjoyed this, hence the 4.5.
What the Woods Keep is a dark, genre-bending novel which twists science-fiction, fantasy, mystery, contemporary, and paranormal themes all together into one explosion of a book. And de Becerra does a fantastic job of putting it all together without making it feel like a mess.
The premise and plot were all really interesting and engaging, and the transition from contemporary mystery to fantasy/paranormal to science fiction was all done really well. (If you’ve read it, think along the lines of Emily Lloyd-Jones’ The Hearts We Sold because that has a similar style of genre-bending, which I also loved!)
I really liked how it flowed–it wasn’t like it was changing gears on a car, but a smooth transition where the different genres mixed together, like adding food coloring to water. The mystery elements were still present when the sci-fi predominated, and the transition from fantasy to science fiction made sense and flowed nicely.
If I had to pick my favorite genre element in this, it would actually be the mystery, which is a huge surprise because science fiction is my favorite genre ever. But I feel like de Becerra did an amazing job in building the mystery and intrigue over why these mysterious occurrences in a small town are happening.
Hayden, the main character, narrates what’s going on really well. Although I wasn’t extremely invested in what happened to her and was more into the story for the physical plot and the mystery, I still think her introspection was top notch.
I was mostly apathetic to her relationships with her father and with her long lost childhood best friend, but I also didn’t dislike it, nor did I mind when these scenes occurred.
I honestly just wanted more exploration into these facets of Hayden, but wasn’t really able to get them due to the giant plot also taking place as de Becerra develops Hayden’s character. It’s definitely a lot to do at once, and the character interactions are where I felt de Becerra fell a little short.
I did absolutely love the structure and writing style. A lot of the chapters end in these short epistolary-like pieces, such as a letter or a scientific article or something else. I felt like these pieces actually contributed to the work and made it more whole, in a way.
I do have to note that if you’re someone who gets really annoyed at using any sort of math/science references in literature, then you’re probably going to dislike the writing style. A lot of the chapters start with a connection to a science or math principle, although most of them aren’t super cliché like:
Every action has an equal opposite reaction. (aka Newton’s Second Law aka something that does NOT mean your actions have consequences but rather that the force of the box on the ground equals the force of the ground on the box.)
So even though these were present and I do feel like they did misconstrue math and science principles a bit, I also didn’t really mind. Take that as you will, because I am one of those annoying STEM people who are nitpicky about these types of things.
Overall, I had a great time reading and found the plot to be unique and refreshing with both its darkness and genre-bending. I’d say, if you’re a fan of Emily Lloyd-Jones’ The Hearts We Sold or Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood, you definitely want to pick this up! Or if this appeals to you, because it truly is a great read!
Thank you so much to Imprint/Macmillan and Katya de Becerra for sending me an advance readers’ copy in exchange for an honest review!