After the Forest by Kell Woods
Publication Date: September 26th, 2023
Hardcover. 375 pages.
About After the Forest:
"Ginger. Honey. Cinnamon. Flour.
Twenty years after the witch in the gingerbread house, Greta and Hans are struggling to get by. Their mother and stepmother are long dead, Hans is deeply in debt from gambling, and the countryside lies in ruin, its people starving in the aftermath of a brutal war.
Greta has a secret, the witch's grimoire, secreted away and whispering in Greta's ear for the past two decades, and the recipe inside that makes the best gingerbread you've ever tasted. As long as she can bake, Greta can keep her small family afloat.
But in a village full of superstition, Greta and her mysteriously addictive gingerbread, not to mention the rumors about her childhood misadventures, is a source of gossip and suspicion.
And now, dark magic is returning to the woods and Greta's magic—magic she is still trying to understand—may be the only thing that can save her. If it doesn't kill her first."
After the Forest is a stunning new fairy tale inspired by Hansel and Gretel, and it's a must-read for your fall TBRs. We follow Greta and Hans as adults still struggling with the trauma from their past experiences as children at the hands of the witch. Although their struggles manifest in different ways, they both have to learn how to survive and make ends meet despite them. We follow Greta as our protagonist as she slowly uncovers things about herself–with the help of a certain talking grimoire that has given her company throughout her years.
What I liked: I loved the premise of following Greta and Hans years after their ordeal with the witch in the woods and seeing how that has affected their lives both mentally and with judgments from others in the town. I thought that Woods also executed the fairy tale atmosphere really well and really made this feel like a magical fantasy world where there are indeed things such as talking grimoires and plenty of unexpected magical things to discover. I think the first half of this book was really strong and I loved getting to know Greta and her baking (I'm not usually a huge gingerbread fan, but I could make an exception for Greta's!) and seeing how the magic would be working in this world. Woods has lovely prose that flows in a smooth manner, and since I read this as an audiobook I thought the narration really highlighted this.
What I didn't like: As much as I wanted to love this book, there was something that just didn't quite connect for me in the way that I'd hoped it would. I should have loved this book, but there was something missing that prevented me from fully immersing myself in the story. I think this was partially due to the fact that the characters and plot all felt very one note. There wasn't as much depth as I was initially expecting, and this made it hard to feel the emotions and occasional sense of urgency that the author was trying to evoke. I also wish that more had been done with so many of the magical elements in this book; there was so much potential, but I don't think it was explored or expanded as fully as it could have been.
Overall, I've given After the Forest 3.75 stars! Kell Woods does a fantastic job of creating an atmospheric, compelling story that will be sure to keep you flipping the pages.