The Ghost Woods has the thrill, the horror, the mystery all-in-one

The first C.J. Cooke book I’d ever read was The Lighthouse Witches. It was described as a “Gothic thriller”, which I believe is a genre I rarely, if ever, read. It enchanted me completely, and pulled me out of a reading slump (for a brief amount of time before I fell back into it, but still).

Determined to not leave things hanging, this time I dragged myself out of the slump to read The Ghost Woods and at least get through it before I developed an aversion to doing it. And while I started off slow, stumbling to get by the first few chapters, the pace quickly grew, and soon I was speeding through the book, set on reaching the end and seeing how it all came together.

Like The Lighthouse Witches, The Ghost Woods features multiple viewpoints from multiple timelines. While The Lighthouse Witches was rather sporadic, leaping back and forth, from past to present, The Ghost Woods alternates between past and present before converging to the same timeline. This time round, it features Mabel from the past and Pearl from the present, both sent to Lichen Hall to give birth to children conceived out of wedlock. Mysterious tales surrounds the place, particularly that of Nicnevin, thought to possibly be Hecate.

Cooke has that ability to rapidly hook readers in with odd happenings, wild speculations, and an air of intrigue. I didn’t get too far before wanting to speed through the whole book just so I could find out what exactly happens, to discover the solution behind the mystery. The writing is also engaging so that the reader is immersed in the characters’ points-of-view, seeing what they see and feeling what they feel. This immersive experience made the book more of an excitement to go through and prompts imagination to run and create according to the descriptions provided.

I enjoyed the characters’ complexities and contrasting personalities as well as the way womanhood is portrayed. As it is in my other recent read The Queen of Dirt Island, both manage to display both conventional and modern beliefs of what a woman were expected to be, and how there is no definite way that a woman should be. In The Ghost Woods, this ties in to the themes of motherhood, how one can grow fond of a child yet will need to part with them. It did make me wonder if there could be anyone who does not develop an attachment to their child and gives them away at Lichen Hall, which is precisely what the expectant mothers initially went there for in the first place. It was a little contradictory in the book, where a character gives up a child just to take in another, so while it wasn’t directly shown, it would be common sense to believe that there would be parents who genuinely do not want their children or would need to give them up, and although I may not understand the subject fully, it would have been interesting to be able to read these differing views when it comes to motherhood.

When it came to the plot, I liked how Cooke weaved the intricate world of fungi into the story, how they are used in place of human nature and shown as both beautiful and horrendous, and how it sparked an interest in me to look up the types of fungi mentioned. It is indeed true that nature can be both exquisite yet deadly, how we need to be reminded of it and respect it all the same. The story was fast-paced and I do wish we had some more exposure to the horror, to the effects of said horrors, and the possibilities or implications that await, but it was still a thrilling ride nonetheless. 

I’m a little torn between approval and apathy when gothic fiction combines aspects of reality and some extraordinary elements such as that of science fiction or fantasy (which is what it’s supposed to do, admittedly, and I acknowledge that this is my personal preferences based on my limited knowledge of the genre through Cooke’s works).  On one hand, I believe that the horrors of human nature as they are can be fascinating topics in fiction, but on the other hand, the science fiction/fantasy aspects can be just as intriguing. Perhaps what I wish for is not the removal of these elements, but rather that they could be more ambiguous as a way of provoking more questions in the fiction itself instead of being a definite solution to the mystery. 

In the end, I greatly enjoyed The Ghost Woods, and having absolutely sped through the book, I realise just how entertaining it is. So if you’re looking for a haunting yet gripping story to sit back with, you know what book to look out for.

The Ghost Woods book cover

Received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Netgalley, HarperCollins, and C.J. Cooke for the chance to read and review this ARC!


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