REVIEW: After the Forest by Kell Woods

Have you ever wondered what happens after the witch is defeated? After the fairy tale runs its course and the characters have a whole life to live? After the Forest by Kell Woods asks exactly that question – who would Hansel and Gretel be as adults and how do they fit into society after their experiences as children. The short answer is, not very well. Fifteen years after they return from the forest, Hans is a gambling menace, in deep with all the wrong people, and Greta is a wilful, independent young woman believed to be a witch by many of the villagers in their small German town.

After the Forest Kell Woods’ debut takes familiar stories and tropes from the vast corpus of the Brothers Grimm and smartly weaves them into an excellent historical fantasy novel. After the Forest is poetic, evocative, and most of all, addictive. I had the visceral urge to pick this book back up first thing in the morning because I simply needed to know how the story continued. And that, to me, shows the magic of storytelling imbued in it.

The plot isn’t always surprising to the reader – as many will be familiar with the fairy tales that inspired this, even if it isn’t a traditional retelling of a single story, readers will recognise elements and patterns. It’s less about being obvious, but writing within a tradition. There is a narrative flow to a fairytale, and even a modern, adult iteration of one will have these elements of genre to it – and that, to me, is one of the things that make After the Forest into the gem it is. It is not only a response to the traditional stories, but through structure, through style as well as more obvious elements, is in conversation with them.

And oh, what a conversation it is. Far from the cookie-cutter characters you may expect to see, Kell Woods’ version gives them all depth and complexity. Characters perceived as good act in ways that are clearly morally reprehensible and are called out for it. People are able to learn from their mistakes, characters are able to both forgive beyond comprehension and hold unreasonable grudges. You may wonder why a book based on fairy tales holds appeal to Grimdark readers – this right there is it. The moral complexity of the characters, the themes of powerlessness permeating the book in different layers. And the villainess. There’s some real gold here.

After the Forest is high up on my list of best books of 2023. An author to watch and a powerhouse debut.

Read After the Forest by Kell Woods

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.