When I picked up this latest fantasy offering about faraway worlds and magical adventures, I was not expecting so much melancholy. Especially after my previous reading disaster, I was ready for something that would transport and enthrall me in every way the last book did not. I got what I wanted, but I really did not expect to feel so sad as now.
Siblings Jamie, Phillipa, and Evelyn Hapwell find themselves trapped—first in their cellar during the Blitz in London, and then, in the magical, faraway land of the Great Woods. The Guardian of the Wood, Cervus, takes them under his protection, as the Great Wood is under threat of war. Years go by, and the siblings adapt to differing roles within the Wood, but when peace is restored to the realm, they are sent back home to the exact moment they left. They each try to start over, with Phillipa and Jamie going off to college, and Evelyn at her old school. But a Woodlander’s heart always finds its way home, and Ev is convinced that she will find her way back, at any cost. It isn’t until Ev goes missing that both Jamie and Phillipa—Philippa especially—are forced to confront just how deeply Ev loved the Great Wood and the lengths she took to return there.
Very few books really deal with the aftermath of returning from a fantasy world. While the adventure is full of intrigue and magic, what happens when you must transition back to reality? Like I said, I was expecting magic, but I got a deep look at the melancholy of trying to maintain that magic in the trenches of real life, and how sisterly bonds can be tested when two people’s paths diverge so far.
The main intrigue comes from how Philippa and Ev fight to return to their respective realities, though neither one is quite in the right. The fantasy lover that I am, I wanted to return to the Great Wood like Ev, but Philippa, on the other hand, only wanted to keep a promise she made to her mother during the bombings—that she would look after her little sister—something which I understood very much. The love between the sisters is very palpable, and how hard they try to love each other, despite their tremendous differences, is gut wrenching. I kept seeing so much of my own older sister and myself in this story that I could not keep a dry face during the book’s latter half.
But the point of fascination for me still remains trying to move on after a magical adventure. Do you try to move on with mundane reality, or do you try very hard to get back the magic that sheltered and pampered you—even if there is little to no chance of going back? Both these struggles are painted with shocking tenderness, and I’d love to see more stories try to tackle this.
I guess because the book I read before this was so bad, and this book was a godsend by comparison, it’s hard to think of any criticisms. Perhaps because the concept is so compelling and original that any faults this book has are small and simply inconsequential. So, really, if you’ve ever wished to travel to a magic land, but never really considered the aftermath, this is one story you’ll want to hear.