“Savage Woods” is the latest novel by Bram Stoker Award nominated author Mary SanGiovanni who has a wide ranging back-catalogue as both a novelist and short story writer of supernatural fiction spanning the last decade. However, although “Savage Woods” was a solid enough tale, predominately set in a very dangerous forest, it offered little which was particularly new and had a plot which was pretty familiar to the genre. Although there are positives to highlight, ultimately there just wasn’t enough going on in the novel for my taste.
Straight from page one tension is unnecessarily killed off, as the prologue immediately reveals that the part of a forest known as ‘Nilhollow’ is inhabited by some ancient type of supernatural or mystical beings which have lived there since before man. Personally I like a horror novel which reveals its secrets very slowly, this book doesn’t and I knew too much too soon. These strange magical entities can take the form of trees, or other aspects of the forest which can come to life, morph, or change shape to catch out any unlucky traveller. As time has marched on these beings increasingly feel the threat of mankind, the modern world and begin to awaken further.
So nasty tree creatures aren’t particularly new. At various times it had me thinking of the Julia Donaldson children’s classic “Stick Man” [but MUCH nastier], and of course it was impossible not to think of Tolkien’s magical creatures ‘The Ents’ from “The Lord of the Rings” and thirdly Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” in which the trees do nasty things to Bruce Campbell and his dumb friends. So the threat in the novel comes from a combination similar to the above.
Nilhollow is definitely a place worth avoiding, which all the locals most definitely do, they have long since realised there is something wrong with the cursed forest. However, over the years many unsuspecting hitchhikers, tourists and lost locals have disappeared from the darker areas and the police have long since seen it as something similar to the Bermuda Triangle. The major thrust of the plot centres upon a policeman searching for a missing woman, Julia Russo, whom the policeman knows had been abused and stalked by her nutter boyfriend Darren who is a real nasty piece of work. Policeman Pete, knowing the forest is dangerous, bravely ventures inside to find her after discovering her abandoned car nearby. So into the forest we go…
Julia hides in the forest, as Darren stalks her, and quickly realises things are not normal, but for an unknown reason the forest and its inhabitants do not kill her, forming a major plotline. The elongated forest sequences are very strong and are amongst the best in the novel, with the author vividly recreating a dangerous place which is both alive, ancient and very, very evil. Dripping with atmosphere quite a few characters meet really nasty ends as the cavalry are called.
That brings us onto the graphic violence, and there is plenty of it to go around. Characters are ripped in half, bones are shattered, eyeballs are pulled out and the forest even has the power to make humans maim themselves in all sorts of unpleasant ways. Lots of foreign sounding words are used in the terminology to describe the creatures, but I could find one of them on Google, to see if they were based on actual folk stories, which was ‘Leshiye’ Slavic for an ancient type of tree spirit.
The forest itself was probably the best character in the book and the author obviously enjoyed letting her wild imagination ramp through the gears. Unfortunately, with the exception of Julia the majority of the human characters lacked the depth of the forest and I had little sympathy for them as they were gouged, slaughtered and viciously despatched. This all led to a particularly bloodthirsty climax which was amongst the strongest sequences in the novel.
“Savage Woods” was a well written story, with some great descriptions and over-the-top violence, but ultimately it was a story that was all too familiar with not enough going on to truly grip me.
You can pre-order the book right here.
Written by: Tony Jones