The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees

“But little things, they say, grow into big things.

And big things, they say, must not forget they were once little things too.”

The Waking Forest Cover

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The waking forest has secrets. To Rhea, it appears like a mirage, dark and dense, at the very edge of her backyard. But when she reaches out to touch it, the forest vanishes. She’s desperate to know more—until she finds a peculiar boy who offers to reveal its secrets. If she plays a game.

To the Witch, the forest is her home, where she sits on her throne of carved bone, waiting for dreaming children to beg her to grant their wishes. One night, a mysterious visitor arrives and asks her what she wishes for, but the Witch sends him away. And then the uninvited guest returns.

The strangers are just the beginning. Something is stirring in the forest, and when Rhea’s and the Witch’s paths collide, a truth more treacherous and deadly than either could ever imagine surfaces. But how much are they willing to risk to survive?

DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.



TW: gore, parental death

If you’re looking for a book that blends fairy tales, dreams, and nightmares into something lyrical and short, this is definitely the book for you.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I started The Waking Forest based on the summary, and it certainly wasn’t the same book as the one in my head at the beginning. Sometimes that goes poorly, but this time around, I think it went extremely well.

For starters, I absolutely loved the flowing, almost haunting nature of the prose in the sections about the Witch of Wishes, because the fairy tale feeling was INTENSE. You got the sense that this was some hazy nowhere, magical in every way, and yet entirely unapproachable save for the lucky (or unlucky…) few. In the Witch’s chapters, it’s a world of foxes and bones and bleeding flower hearts stitched up time and again, while in Rhea’s chapters, it’s a whirlwind of family and anxiety and the creeping itch that there’s more somewhere out there, somewhere close.

The alternation between the two POVs was done well, too. It was a perfect way to bring two plot lines into convergence, and the slight tonal shift from one to the other was carried out elegantly, if you ask me. This book was balanced, in a way I hadn’t anticipated, and I actually enjoyed the POV swapping. It’s a nice change of pace to enjoy that when I’ve recently read books with POVs I just couldn’t bring myself to care about.

Basically, give me a POV just dripping in atmosphere, and I think we’ll be all set.

I also really liked the characters a lot. This seems to be a standalone, based on the ending, so we don’t get the kind of depth and complexity you see from series, but as it stands, I was really pleased! Especially since there is this heavy fairy tale element, not everything or everyone has to be particularly grounded. Some characters are more ephemeral than others, and it seemed right that way, the arrangement of the cast.

What struck me most, though, was Rhea. As interesting as the Witch of Wishes was, Rhea was even more interesting, because here is a girl of eighteen who loves her family more than anything, especially her three younger sisters, and yet she has to grapple with visions and nightmares that plague her day after day, and well into the night. Her family is a loving one, tightly knit and such a refreshing change from the strained or absent families so often seen in YA, and I felt so strongly about each one of them as their fates unfolded in Rhea’s world.

And thematically? I suppose I needed this book. Amidst all that anxiety is a path towards healing and collective good. It’s ultimately a story about patching up old wounds and carrying yourself and everyone around you forward instead of dragging everyone down. Somehow, that works well with the book’s fairy tale quality; healing tends to feel impossible sometimes, like a story people tell themselves just to feel better. And yet The Waking Forest also feels grounded in its approach. It may seem like a story, but healing can happen. It can hurt, but it can happen.

Overall, I’m beyond impressed with this book, and if you’re looking for something to scratch that fairy tale itch you’ve got, then this might just be the book for you. Be sure to pre-order it or request it at your local library before it releases on March 12th, only a little while away!

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