In Darkling Wood
By Emma Carroll
Published by Faber and Faber
ISBN 978 0 561 31757 8
Novels rarely open with as effective a hook as the one Emma Carroll delivers at the start of this original tale of old magic, modern family problems and dark goings on in those ancient woods at the bottom of the garden.
A middle-of-the-night phone call brings news that a donor heart has been found that could save the life of teenager Alice’s kid brother. Alice and her mother have to bundle Theo into the car and drive him over a hundred miles to the hospital that will carry out a heart transplant on the boy. No reader will fail to move eagerly into Carroll’s story after this tense and involving opening chapter.
The chapter not only hooks you onto the story that is to come, it also makes you feel total involvement with Alice and her family. They are facing a situation that could end well or in tragedy. But when you think you know where the story is going to go, it takes off in a very different direction.
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Whilst her mum has to stay at the hospital, Alice is bundled off to stay with Nell, her paternal grandmother, who lives in an old house in the country with no modern amenities. Nell isn’t interested in having a teenager stay with her because she has problems of her own.
Nell’s house is very close to an old wood, and the roots of the trees are undermining the foundations of Darkling Cottage. Nell must have the trees in the wood chopped down. This will cost her money, but it will save her home from falling down.
But the local villagers are against the destruction of the ancient wood, and are willing to put up a fight. Alice finds herself in the middle of the hostilities, and she also feels strangely drawn towards the darkness of Darkling Wood.
One day in the wood she meets a girl who tells her that Darkling Wood is the home of fairy spirits who will turn against Alice’s grandmother if she cuts down a single tree. At first, Alice doesn’t believe this nonsense, but as she gets drawn into the secrets of Darkling Wood, what she believes in is turned upside down.
Right from the opening line of In Darkling Wood, it is obvious that Carroll means business. She packs in a lot of narrative that includes references to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, who believed in fairy spirits.
Carroll also punctuates the present day plot with letters from a sister to her older brother who is away fighting in the first world war.
With a stunning cover by artist Julian de Narvaes, this novel about hope, magic, family dynamics and secrets is a gripping read. Carroll is a classy storyteller, and in her latest novel, she delivers a superior slice of highly-recommended YA fiction.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com