Into the Heartless Wood / Joanna Ruth Meyer / Book Review


In the Gwydden's Wood, the tree sirens lure men and women to a grisly end. The Gwydden has eight daughters, each a powerful and gruesome monster--merciless, soulless.

Owen Merrick lives right at the edge of the Wood, closer than any others dare to live. If his father's job didn't depend on it, they would have left long ago--when his mother was lured into the trees to die. Owen fears the Gwydden and her daughters, but when his toddler sister Awela wanders into the Wood, he heads in after her. Owen knows, if they are caught, they will die. But what Owen finds isn't a monster at all. Instead, he finds Seren, the youngest daughter of the Gwydden. Seren rescues Awela and Owen from her sisters, returns them to their cottage by the Wood, erases their memories.

But Owen can't entirely forget, not with the siren song in the air and the scent of violets on the wind, and he begins to realize that the monstrous daughters of the Gwydden might not be the only monsters he has to fear.



Fairy Tale and the Industrialized World Meyer sets up a clearly fantastical world steeped in fairy tale surrealism--creepy woodlands, creaking birch tree sirens, violets and roses and blood. At the same time, however, she incorporates an industrialized world creeping in. Alongside the fairy tale charm, there are telegrams and railroads--a good blend of two different worldbuilding modes that don't touch nearly as much as they should.

Monster Poetry When the Gwydden's monstrous daughter gets a chance to narrate, her chapters are invariably split into lines of scattered poetry. This poetry reflects perfectly her monstrous, inhuman nature as well as her subsequent transformation into something else. Seren is putting herself together piece by piece, as the shattered lines represent, and she has suffered as much trauma as she has inflicted. The violence of her being, internal and external, is broken into digestible bits--fractured lines of poetry.

Short Chapters Books with prose as lyrical as Meyer's tend to have long sentences, wandering paragraphs, and meandering chapters. This tendency can, at times, make the most beautiful of prose into a slog to get through, but that is not the case here. This book features relatively short chapters, meaning the story moves along quickly. It doesn't have the same tendency to wallow, setting it apart from other whimsical, contemporary fairy tales.


Though the descriptions here are beautiful, they are also repetitive, especially when it comes to Seren. Owen almost invariably describes her in the same way. Though part of this is the magical obsession and poetic nature inherent to this contemporary fairy tale, the descriptions still get old fast--especially in longer, slower-moving chapters. Repetitive Descriptions

Though Meyer's fairy tale inspiration is abundantly clear and decidedly well-done, this work could have been even better had it leaned into its fairy tale roots more. Some of the best contemporary fairy tales make tantalizing and witty nods toward their originals, a tip of the idiomatic hat, so to say. This book doesn't do that--or hardly does that--and I feel like that was a mistake, a missed opportunity. Lost Fairy Tale Opportunities

Beautiful prose, evocative passages, and all: this book gets almost everything right. It was, however, ultimately missing some critical emotional piece. That, in general, is a fairy tale problem. Fairy tales often touch only the surface and don't delve into the inner lives of the characters, emotional included. I appreciated the lyrical descriptions of both beauty and horror in this book, but there was no part of me that was really rooting for Owen and Seren--just like there would be no part of me rooting for old fairy tale characters. I was just along for the ride, and though it was a beautiful ride, it wasn't an emotional one. Emotional Disconnect



Those who appreciated the twistedly traditional sensibilities of the fairy tale world in Ruth Long's The Treachery of Beautiful Things will enjoy the graphic and gory poetry of this new fairy tale. Anyone who resonated with the brutality of Daniel Mallory Ortberg's The Merry Spinster will appreciate this new siren song.


Publisher: Page Street Kids
Date: January 12, 2021
Series: N/A
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