Goodreads: Into the Heartless Wood
Published: January 12, 2021
The forest is a dangerous place, where siren song lures men and women to their deaths. For centuries, a witch has harvested souls to feed the heartless tree, using its power to grow her domain.
When Owen Merrick is lured into the witch’s wood, one of her tree-siren daughters, Seren, saves his life instead of ending it. Every night, he climbs over the garden wall to see her, and every night her longing to become human deepens. But a shift in the stars foretells a dangerous curse, and Seren’s quest to become human will lead them into an ancient war raging between the witch and the king who is trying to stop her.
Epic, heartbreaking, and darkly atmospheric, Into the Heartless Wood is the story of impossible love between a monstrous tree siren and a boy who lives at the edge of her wood.
Into the Heartless Wood brings readers to a fantasy world where tree sirens roam– and they are deadly. Against them, men and women try to wield fire and guns, but the forest always regrows. The result is a uniquely imagined and wonderfully atmospheric novel, one that many readers are sure to love, drawn in by the magic and trees and the lyrical prose. However, slow pacing and some minor plot holes lessened my personal excitement for the book.
Roughly the first third of the novel is focused on protagonist Owen setting the scene and then meeting with one of the tree sirens, Seren, who seems different– less inclined to kill, determined perhaps to become something other than the monster she has been. This was interesting to me at first, but I did reach a point where I began to wonder whether anything in particular was going to happen in the novel, or whether I would just be watching Owen and Seren have cutesy forest dates for 300 pages without any sort of rising action, climax, or structure to the book at all.
Things eventually did pick up, and I vacillated between genuinely being excited and wondering what would happen next, and thinking that things were a bit underdeveloped and could use more build-up or explanation. On the plus side, Into the Heartless Wood is a standalone, and I’ll accept a few things being rushed here and there to be able to finish the story in just one book.
Though there is action (just reading the book summary will tell you there’s a war), I’d say the book is truly a romance, and unfortunately that fell flat for me. Owen and Seren both seem like incredibly kind and strong people, but I wasn’t feeling any particularly chemistry between them; I personally didn’t care whether they got together or not, and their flowery thoughts about how much they meant to each other didn’t do anything for me.
The book salvages this, however, by representing some great family dynamics. Owen lost his mother (it’s YA, so of course she’s dead), but he has a vivacious sister who’s two and whom he primarily cares for, and he has his father–who, honestly, is a largely unsung hero of the book. Owen seems vaguely to recognize his father is smart and strong and brave–he’s faced the forest more than once and is always willing to fight for those he loves–but the point is never dwelled on, and I think it’s understated how much the man must have suffered. Seren has more complicated relationships, but watching her navigate her path dealing with her mother and her siblings is fascinating.
While I was expecting more from Into the Heartless Wood after absolutely loving Echo North, it’s a fine book. Readers who want something woodsy and atmospheric and don’t mind a bit of slowness will likely enjoy it. It’s a nice pick if you like fantasy but don’t want over-the-top epic fantasy or drawn-out wars.
Side note: The text in this book is TINY. If miniscule font is not for you, you might enjoy the ebook better.