The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees

The Waking Forest

“I’m still here. Stuck at the point where madness meets miracles, immovable. Me, the God of all shadows that shimmer, of all souls burdened with a bottled scream.”

I can’t remember the last time I’ve read a book so beautifully, wondrously written. The prose is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and yes, experienced. Reading this book is akin to being transported to a fairytale, but not the tales of damsels and shining palaces—of thorns and brambles and nightmares, of witches in woods and luminous stars. For the writing alone I will read literally anything Alyssa Wees writes, including her grocery lists.

“Spider-bite midnight: an infected emerald sky strung with clumps of silk-woven stars, a cobweb moon.”

Rhea Ravena’s nightmares aren’t ordinary. They exist outside her dreams and transform her waking world into a liminal space where her senses deceive and impossibilities are realities. The lines between her two worlds blur further still when a boy of shadows and darkness appears in her attic and seems to know everything about her. Thus begins a game between the two where her family’s existences are at stake. And intertwined with Rhea’s story is that of the Witch of Wishes who lives in a palace of teeth and bone, granting wishes to children, and one day meets a fox-like boy who tells her stories of a princess who needs to save her land from her tyrannical grandfather.

“I will use your bones to drum the beat of our song, if you will not join along.”

I absolutely adored the first 2/3 of this book. It was everything I’d ever wanted—games, riddles, transformative prose, interweaving storylines—but unfortunately once the storylines came together, things became messy. It felt as though the author wasn’t quite ready to tackle the scope of the story, and the result was that while the idea was brilliant, the execution was sloppy. I would say more, but I can’t get into details without spoiling the plot twists. It’s one of those stories that works so well in theory and sounds incredible, but may have been a bit too ambitious for a debut.

“He laughs: rabid, enraptured a sound somewhere between an elegy and an alleluia”

Aside from the prose, I really did love the characters. While Rhea’s dynamic with the boy of shadows was both beautiful and riddled with games, it was the Witch of Wishes and her fox who captured my heart. I’m always a sucker  one character telling another stories, and especially when they use stories to capture a cold heart, which is exactly what these two gave me. I adored the slow burn between them, the buildup of their friendship, and the hesitant trust. Everything between them felt as fragile as whisper, yet tense as a knife’s blade, and I was completely enchanted.

“This is how the world ends: in a kiss cut short, a storm of sleeping synapses, in a murder mistaken for mercy. My dream is dying, dead.”

Overall this is a gorgeously written book. The prose alone makes it a 5 star read, and the first 2/3 of the book were outstanding. I’d definitely recommend this book to writers because it’s a masterclass in evocative, lyrical prose, and I’ll be reading every book this author writes. I just wish the execution of the story had been better—but because it’s a debut I’m excited to see how the author grows, and I truly think she bit off more than she could chew with this one, but that her storytelling craft will improve with subsequent books.

“‘You are breathlessness,’ and I am all skin and nerves, and every inch of me glitters, every inch of me groans. ‘You are cold fire. You are wonder and curiosity that cuts through bone. You speak to Death and convince him to give you what’s rightfully his. You promise him diamonds in exchange for souls, but give him coal and time instead. And Death, he falls for it again and again, because your smile is a sword that no one, not even a god, wants to feed with his blood.’”

Preorder The Waking Forest

*All quotes are taken from an advanced reader’s copy and are subject to change upon publication*

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