The White Forest
Author: Adam McOmber
Publication Date: September 11, 2012
Source: Touchstone for blog tour
Description from Goodreads:
Young Jane Silverlake lives with her father at a crumbling family estate on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Jane has a secret—an unexplainable gift that allows her to see the souls of manmade objects—and this talent isolates her from the outside world. Her greatest joy is wandering the wild heath with her neighbors, Madeline and Nathan. But as the friends come of age, their idyll is shattered by the feelings both girls develop for Nathan, and by Nathan’s interest in a cult led by Ariston Day, a charismatic mystic popular with London's elite. Day encourages his followers to explore dream manipulation, with the goal of discovering a new virtual reality, a place he calls the Empyrean.
A year later, Nathan has vanished, and the famed Inspector Vidocq arrives in London to untangle the events that led up to Nathan’s disappearance. As a sinister truth emerges, Jane realizes she must discover the origins of her talent and use it to find Nathan herself, before it’s too late.
First Sentence: "When Nathan Ashe disappeared from the ruined streets of Southwark, I couldn't help but think the horror was, at least in part, my own design."
The White Forest was not what I was expecting at all. Perhaps I should have been, but I tend not to read blurbs at all or not closely, because they sometimes contain spoilers. Anyway, I thought this was going to be a gorgeous novel of historical fiction, and it certainly starts out that way. Then it changes into fantasy horror, so be prepared for that.
The writing of The White Forest is lush, dark and gothic. I very much appreciate McOmber's style and use of language, even when the story went down paths I wasn't entirely thrilled about. Though the book does not have much action, the story moves along at a nice steady pace, jumping from the present to the past, as we unravel the mystery of what happened to Nathan Ashe.
The opening chapters focus on a friendship, that of Jane, Maddy and Nathan. The three of them formed an unlikely bond, one frowned upon by the rest of society. Two girls and a boy should not be so close, others felt, suspecting something unsavory. Jane, Maddy and Nathan could not care less about the opinions of others. Maddy and Nathan are both beautiful, meant perhaps for better things and company. Jane, so plain and boring and unworldly, feels so lucky every day to be important to them. She doesn't want anything to change between them ever.
Changes, of course, cannot be avoided as they grow older. Both Maddy and Jane struggle with an attraction to Nathan, and the jealousy of not knowing where his affections lie. Maddy especially felt jealous, hating Nathan's interest in Jane's supernatural powers. Nathan, on the other hand, has been tempted away from them by a cult led by the mysterious Ariston Day. Maddy desperately wants him out of the cult, justifiably, but to no avail. Then he disappears.
Jane's power initially seemed to me a sort of curiosity, but it's not; it is, in fact, the whole point, which I felt stupid for not figuring out sooner. Jane can see and her the souls of objects, this whole other world the rest of us have no sense of. By touching another person, she can let them see this as well, in a process she calls transference. Carrying flowers helps minimize the effect, so Jane stays flower-bedecked.
Her power, which she deems a curse, is of great interest to others, who ascribe many disparate meanings to it. Many, including Maddy, think this is a sign of witchery, that Jane has been touched by the devil. Others believe Jane and her powers can lead the way to paradise. Jane's mother, strange herself, says that Jane is the daughter of a tree. This basic concept of Jane's power wowed me. The cult, convinced of Jane's divinity, too, was a horrifyingly creepy and awesome element.
Unfortunately, as the book became completely fantasy, the story got a bit weird for me, likely especially so because I was not expecting the book to go there. The way everything turned out just seemed overly strange to me, especially the white apes and everything at the end. I love fantasy, but this world just did not ring out to me. This part reminded me strongly of H.G. Wells or H.P. Lovecraft, and their classic fantasy and horror. If you like their stories, I suspect you will enjoy this aspect much more than I did. I, however, found it too crazy, and read on in disbelief, no longer especially interested in the characters, though still entertained by the pretty writing.
Personally, I would have preferred if the book stayed historical fiction. However, if you like dark, creepy fantasy, The White Forest just might rock your socks off.
Favorite Quote: "After Nathan was gone, I went to my bed and lay facedown in my goose pillows, thinking of Maddy. She was as fierce a creature as I'd ever known, and I respected her greatly. She'd once said she and I were both outlaws—not unlike those famous villains of the American West that we read about from time to time in the Herald. 'Society has abandoned us, Jane, and so we'll make out own society here on Hampstead Heath. We don't need the flittering fools of London or their parties.'"
Giveaway: Thanks to Shane of Itching for Books for hosting this tour and to Touchstone for providing review copies and offering this giveaway, which is tour-wide.
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