The Butcher of the Forest

Premee Mohamed is hugely popular with many of my friends. A lot of what she writes sounds a bit too much like horror for my tastes, but The Butcher of the Forest is a novella and it sounded more like dark fantasy, so I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

If I were to do one of those horrible elevator pitch things for this book it would be Hansel & Gretel in Mythago Wood. There are indeed two young children lost in the woods in this book. But witches in gingerbread houses are the least of the threats that they face. Parents tell their children not to go into the North Woods because no one has ever come out of them. No one.

Well, not quite no one. There was Veris Thorn. And she brought a young girl back with her. Aside from that, no one has ever returned from those woods.

Veris thought getting out with her life, and the life of the girl, would be an end to it. After all, no one in their right minds would go in there. But some children are just too foolish. Especially children who have been raised in such an atmosphere of power and authority that they assume that no one and nothing could ever be a threat to them.

Thus it is that Veris Thorn finds herself dragged before The Tyrant. He will stop at nothing to get his children back. As military force has proved spectacularly ineffective, he wants Veris to go instead. And if she doesn’t return with both children alive, he will have her entire family killed. Simples.

What I love about this book is the way that Mohamed describes the denizens of the North Woods. Here’s an example:

Last time she had seen but not spoken to this creature—or something very like. Smaller than her, skinny, dark-haired, like a cross between a man and a hare and a deer, antlers bone-white out of a wood-brown body, wearing only a loose cloak of leaves woven into some kind of net. Now, closer, she looked down at his three-toed feet, which seemed real enough, and were stained with mud and bits of broken leaf. His eyes were large, liquid, and reminded her of nothing so much as the night sky: black from corner to corner, filled with innumerable little glints of light.

He edged closer to her. “Is that…cheese?”

At Luxcon I was on a panel about The Weird and we were desperately trying to find a definition of what weird was. That there was weird. Very much so.

The ending, perhaps, let the book down a little. Clearly Veris is in a lose-lose situation. Even if she gets out with the kids alive, The Tyrant isn’t going to thank her. He’ll still be as vicious and implacable as ever. So Mohamed had to come up with a resolution that didn’t betray that reality, but didn’t sound utterly hopeless either. Whether it works or not will be down to individual readers. But the rest of the book is lovely as long are you are OK with lots of dead things.

book cover
Title: The Butcher of the Forest
By: Premee Mohamed
Publisher: Titan
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US UK
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