While I don’t celebrate Halloween, What The Woods Keep fits the theme perfectly and this novel was delightfully spooky!
What the Woods Keep is the stunning debut of Katya de Becerra, who combines mystery, science fiction, and dark fantasy in a twisty story that will keep you mesmerized right up to the final page.
On her eighteenth birthday, Hayden inherits her childhood home—on the condition that she uncover its dark secrets.
Hayden tried to put the past behind her, and it worked. She’s getting ready for college, living in a Brooklyn apartment, and hanging out with her best friend and roommate Del. But now it’s all catching up with her: her mother’s mysterious disappearance a decade before, her father’s outlandish theories about a lost supernatural race, 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.
After reading the blurb to this book, I was immediately intrigued because I’m really loving mysteries and thrillers. Complete shock and utter surprise though, when this book turns out to become an urban fantasy/sci-fi novel as well.
Firstly, thank you so much to Allen & Unwin Australia for kindly sending me this review copy at my request and the opportunity to interview the lovely author, Katya De Becerra, as well. It is such an awesome opportunity and I’m so happy that I expressed my interest in this novel to them.
Setting & Plot
As you would’ve read above, the protagonist Hayden inherits her mother’s mansion in her hometown called Promise. I have to say that writing the setting and the premise of Promise was one of my absolute favourite things about this book. Katya wrote it so well when reading about this town, I could immediately imagine a very creepy, spooky town with dark forests and woods and the sound of the wind as if people were whispering secrets. It reminded me of Forks and Riverdale and it was so delightfully spooky.
The general plot of the book is Hayden trying to uncover what the meaning of her mother’s will means. The will basically contained a riddle that she feels like she must solve after her mother disappeared and was declared dead in absentia (yo check out my latin skillzzz). I totally sympathised with this plot, I feel like if my mum disappeared and there was no logical explanation for her death or disappearance, there would always be that one slither of hope that you could maybe find her again. As she delves into the secrets her old mansion holds and also looks into her past and how that can somehow give context to all the new information she’s acquiring, things start to get sinister. I can’t say much more because I don’t want to spoil but I honestly just loved this. For a thriller/horror vibe, it felt like there was quite a bit of action. Some of the scenes gave me chills and had me gasp or just confused that I really had to keep reading.
I really liked Hayden, I thought that she was a great protagonist and that her love for all things scientific and logical with her little repetitive quirks like with counting – was something I could relate to. I’m a secret science nerd and I learnt a lot of things reading this book. Hayden (well, Katya) would explain theories and laws so easily that anyone who has never had an interest in scientific theories to do with the universe or anthropology, could easily understand everything and connect the dots. Hayden’s character was the (obviously) the most complex and I really enjoyed reading her way of thinking and how she developed throughout this book as she began to embrace that you can’t always explain things with science and logic. The identity crisis she goes through I think is relatable to so many people who find things out about their family and themselves that they might’ve never known about and her thought processes and she overcame that were gorgeously enlightening.
The other main character we really get to know the most is Del. Delphine is a French girl who is also Hayden’s roommate and closest friend, and I’ll be honest, from the start I seriously suspected her. I was on my toes about it, I was ready for a huge scandal where she was in on it from the beginning – “Do I even know you? How can I know you say who you are?” – type of situash. I won’t reveal whether that’s true but she was, unfortunately, my least favourite character. She annoyed me quite a bit how she seemed to be pushing her girly and fashionista personality and activities onto Hayden. From being a tomboy as a child, I know the feeling of being forced to dress up when you’d rather be in more comfortable clothes. She was supposed to be Hayden’s best friend but kind of just reminded me of…Ron Weasley. If you know Ron, you’ll get it.
The romance in this book was just the right amount. The love interest is the boy next door that’s all grown up and I feel like it’s realistic that old childhood friends who had feelings for each other would totally be a little insta-lovey at a reunion. That would totally be me anyway. His character wasn’t explored as well and I couldn’t really get to know him, but it was good in a way because then the romance didn’t take over the main plot or steer towards an unnecessary direction. Instead it just helped to create that sense of nostalgia and the past that Hayden has obviously hidden away in the back of her head until she goes back to visit.
Writing & Media
I did not expect this book to be a mixed media novel and it was! It was awesome, I love mixed media novels and I was so excited to get to each different piece where instead of reading from Hayden’s point of view, we read official documents, diary and journal entries, newspaper articles – I loved it all! It strengthened that sense of mystery and that eerie secret yet to be unveiled and gave me some awesome Illuminae vibes. The writing was really enjoyable as well, I thought it was easy to read and probably the only con of it was that a few times it sometimes felt like some of the lingo was trying too hard to sound ‘hip’ and trendy. I noticed that a few times there would be a new compound word like ‘superfresh’ or ‘superadorable’ (not accurate cause I don’t have the exact words) but it somehow bothered that there wasn’t a space between those two words. Either way, I really enjoyed the writing. The journal entries and articles etc were very distinct which made it even more mysterious and creepy and I liked that within the writing, each character has its own way of speaking and their own personalities.
I really enjoyed this book! It was so engaging and I didn’t want to stop reading because things got so sinister and mysterious, the plot thickened more than my favourite Easy Mac and I learnt certain things I have never known or understood before. I would highly recommend picking this up especially if you’re into some spooky reads at this time of year in the halloween season. I hope that you if you do read it that you get chills like I did and I’d love a spoilery discussion!
Look out for my awesome interview with Katya very soon,
Until next time,
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for kindly sending me a review copy of this book at my request, in exchange for an honest review. The paperback was amazingly floppy and shiny and I was flailing for a good hour at receiving it.