For this week’s review, I’m once again talking about a debut book from a new author like myself. And unlike my previous review of Surge, this story was a bit outside my comfort zone: in the realm of not only fantasy, but fairy tales. However, I have to say that The Lost Fairytales of the Dewdrop Forest by my fellow writer Bianca Scharff really defied my expectations and took a much more interesting, if a bit darker, turn than I had anticipated.
The Lost Fairytales of the Dewdrop Forest focuses on Lucy, a girl on who on the cusp of her 18th birthday begins to experience a multitude of strange happenings, from the odd to the unsettling to the genuinely terrifying, leading her to feel like she’s trapped in one of the fairytales that she love so much. On a quest to find her true origins, she travels to the mysterious Dewdrop Forest, recovering tales and clues along the way that each point toward a darker truth: that in a past life, she may have been the cause of all the bad things that are happening to her. Her struggle in the forest, including its wolf-like guardian with his own secret agenda and a dark prince obsessed with possessing her, takes her on a journey of mind-bending proportions in an exploration of what fairy tales really mean to us–and how what may seem light and cheerful may sometimes cover up much darker, scarier truths.
First of all, I’d like to say that this book is certainly not for the faint of heart: I generally don’t get scared by fictional things, and even I was creeped out at times. The writing blends fantasy and reality like an intricate tapestry so that sometimes you’re not sure which is which, and both can be alternatively amusing and terrifying. I mean, seriously, some of the fairy tales in here are pretty grim, from a murder hotel to Jack and Jill getting eaten by monsters and a female phantom who lures other children to their deaths in the depths of the forest. But this isn’t a bad thing: it’s actually quite representative of what true, honest fairy tales like the good old Grimm’s stories are all about. Original tales like Hansel and Gretel and The Little Mermaid were meant to be tragedies, sad affairs intended to convey some sort of lesson to young children of what would happen to them should they behave badly or make poor decisions, and the fact that Dewdrop Forest hearkens back to that so faithfully is really quite refreshing. This isn’t some fluffed-up, Disneyfied retelling of fairy tales. The stories here are dark, with often depressing endings, but are nonetheless spine-tinglingly powerful. Honestly, I’m still in awe of the creativity it took to come up with all these fairy tales–it’s like writing twenty stories instead of just one. I don’t think I could do it, so I really respect those who can, and the imagination it took to do so.
The characters were interesting, each in their own way. As the main character, I obviously found Lucy’s struggle as she wonders whether or not she’s going mad the most identifiable and compelling, despite the fact that she seems much more open to these strange goings-on than the average person would be. I pretty much chalk that up to her just being a different sort of person–and the end of the story sort of bears that out. Spoiler alert! I kind of wish we had gotten a little more into why Lucy is the way she is in general and explored inside her head a bit, but this story is much more about the journey she’s on than knowing what she’s thinking or why. Kudos as well for the unexpected swap of roles between the prince and the wolf: the wolf, who looked like he might be an aid to Lucy in overcoming what was happening to her, ended up being the “bad guy”, while the prince, despite his obvious malice and anger, saved the day in the end, in a manner of speaking. There’s nothing so clear-cut in this book though, and even though the ending left me a bit unsatisfied and like, “Really? That’s how it ends? Nooooo!”, it totally made sense in that respect. Kind of wish we had gotten a little more hinting about this exchange of roles beforehand, though, so it didn’t feel as sprung on us in the final chapter.
Speaking of the ending: I was talking before about the fine line in Dewdrop Forest between fantasy and reality, and how it’s increasingly blurred as the story goes on. The end of the novel, which shows that all along Lucy’s tale was more or less just another grim (haha) fairy tale in which she was an unwitting character and participant and can’t escape her inevitable fate, was unexpected for me. You just generally expect most stories to wrap up nice and neat with the hero triumphing over the forces of darkness. In this one, Lucy actually BECOMES the force of darkness. But in fairness, one that could possibly be a mitigating force for the prince’s anger that has warped the Dewdrop Forest into a hostile place. Things certainly seem to be looking up at least a little in that regard, given Lucy’s obvious affinity for the place. And on that subject, I just wanted to add that the settings and events in this book are beautifully rendered and described. They maintain a dreamlike sensibility, even when discussing “real-world” events, and the imagery is so vivid that I got the shivers several times just from reading them. That’s a pretty rare thing in my experience.
If I had one overall critique to offer, it would be that I wish the fairytales that Lucy collects were separated just a bit more strongly from the rest of the story. I mean, I’m all for the blending of fantasy and reality (that is what this book is all about, by the way), but sometimes I did get a bit confused as to what exactly was going on. Not horribly so, but there’s a lot going on here, and the extra distraction didn’t necessarily help me keep track of it all. Not a fatal flaw by any stretch, but probably something that could be fixed by simply formatting the book a bit differently.
My Rating: 7/10
While it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and can at some points be a bit overwhelming with the details and amount of story at play, The Lost Fairytales of the Dewdrop Forest is a fascinating exploration of the nature of fairytales and the dark twists and turns they can take. While I may have gotten a bit lost at a few junctures trying to follow the turns and counter-turns in the narrative, I think it’s definitely worth a read for anyone who’s interested in surrealistic stories or good old spooky, authentic fairytales in the Grimm’s style. Check it out and support this awesome author that, again, I’m proud to know!