Continuing my quest to celebrate the work of Australian speculative fiction authors, I’ve read and reviewed WHAT THE WOODS KEEP by Katya De Becerra.
Katya has lived in Russia, America and Peru before migrating to Australia and studying cultural anthropology. Her love of science and anthropological studies are apparent throughout this novel, which added a sense of realism to the piece. I also got the impression that the story combines the myths and folklore of her European roots with the locations she might have explored while in America.
The story focuses on Hayden, an eighteen year old girl whose life has only just started approaching normal after the loss of her mother near the woods of their Promise home ten years ago. On her eighteenth birthday the lawyer managing the estate of her mother calls her, there’s something that her mother wanted her to have: the family home in Promise. And a handwritten card with a creepy message, for good measure. It turns out there a secrets her parents kept from her, and questions that can only be answered about herself and her family by returning to Promise.
But WHAT THE WOODS KEEP is about more than revealing a family’s secrets, but about accepting yourself, accepting change, about reconciling the known and the unknowable, the mysteries of the universe. It’s so good, and I really don’t want to spoil it for anyone! The mysterious, eerie build-up is superb, and the last ten chapters are an intoxicating, unpredictable thrill-ride, and up ’til the end you won’t know how it’s going to go.
There’s a lot that I love about this book. I love how dark and creepy it is, I love that it’s about the friendship between Hayden and Delphine. I love the scientific angle the MC takes to rationalise unexplainable phenomena, to explain the complexities of life, it’s all really cleverly done and engaging. And I really loved the German / European mythology, with the Nibelungenlied a recurring theme.
Another thing that was done well was the inclusion of documentation providing more background on what’s happening – from Hayden’s psychologist, her father’s work journals, and her own diaries.
I’ve long thought that one of the marks of a good book is how long it stays with you after you’ve read it. And this book does that – it’s been a week since finishing it, and I haven’t been able to move on, I’m still thinking about the book and the questions it has left me with – about time travel, about Hayden’s mother, about what has been left in the woods, but – most pressingly – if there might be a sequel!
Criticisms. It’s a book that’s hard to criticise, to be honest. It struck me as odd that in this book where Hayden’s searching for her long-lost, long-dead mother, that it’s her living father who is undoubtedly there that’s strangely absent.
Ultimately, WHAT THE WOODS KEEP is a really clever, really engaging read and I’m already looking forward to De Becerra’s next book!
Here’s a link to Katya’s own blog where you can find out more about her and buy a copy of What the Woods Keep, though you’ll likely find a copy in your nearest bookshop too!
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- Originally published February 2019