Home > Book Review, Genre, Length - average but on the longer side, mystery > Book Review: The Dark Between the Trees by Fiona Barnett

Book Review: The Dark Between the Trees by Fiona Barnett

Image of a digital book cover. We are in the aerial perspective above a forest. Some are fir trees and others are deciduous. An eye with horns coming out of it is in the top center third. the book title is in the middle.

Northern England’s Moresby Wood. The locals call it an unnatural place of witchcraft where the devil walks by moonlight. Five women head into it on a historian’s academic expedition to discover what happened to a unit of 17 Parliamentarian soldiers in 1643. Only 2 soldiers survived the wood. How many women will?

This is a book for those steeped in academia who want the mystery to remain a mystery.

The telling alternates between the perspective of the five modern day women and the 17 soldiers in 1643. I liked how the journeys of the two groups paralleled each other while having enough different things occurring to remain engaging. But I never felt like I truly got to know any one character in a well-rounded way. They all felt like two-dimensional drawings. I don’t mind this in a traditional horror/thriller. The point isn’t the characters. But this story struck me as a less traditional mystery that remains unsolved. It’s not like Scream or Cabin in the Woods. It takes itself seriously and, thus, my standards for characterization are higher and remain unmet.

I like the monster in the woods. It has a cool name – the Corrigal. It’s deliciously creepy. But it’s essentially dropped in the last few chapters as a red herring. That would be fine if something scarier replaced it. But it doesn’t.

As someone who spent many years in academia, this book reads like a speculative wish fulfillment. The lead historian is a woman who others in her department think is wrongfully obsessed with the woods. She struggles to win awards when the man in her department does. It took her years to fund this trip. The narrative tells us this over and over again. The book tries to show us that the historian was right. If a bit cruel to her postdoc student. But I was left feeling like this was a speculative exploration of everything wrong with academia without the text being self-aware that this is what it was doing.

I’ve categorized it a mystery, because to me it wasn’t thrilling or horrific. It was a puzzle the women set out to solve and fail to do so in any satisfying way. The bit of chills that built in the beginning fizzle by the end.

If you enjoy 1600s history interspersed with modern day academics flailing helplessly about in the woods and don’t mind an unresolved mystery, then this will be a great match for you.

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3 out of 5 stars

Length: 304 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

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