The Woods: Edited by Phil Sloman
Reviewed By Ben Walker
- Paperback: 113 pages
- Publisher: Independently published (13 Jun. 2019)
Back when I was a lad, the woods were a place to find discarded oddities, to escape from parents for a while, with occasional danger, sometimes whispered about. And wouldn’t you just know it, The Woods, from Hersham Horror Books, has those very same things nestled within its pages, offering five very British spins on woodland terror.
The Iron Curve of Thorns by Cate Gardner is the opener, dominating the collection in terms of page count but lacking in terror. It’s told in fragments, jumping time periods to piece together a fascinating story about ghosts and loss. The character work shines brightest here, as does some of the imagery of mysterious landlocked boats and peculiar sea captains, but it never managed to give me the chills.
A Short Walk Round the Woods by James Everington is next, dealing with a forest which, according to a grizzled stranger, is getting bigger. Another tale of loss, there’s an enjoyable weirdness in the concept but the story, ironically, stretches on just a little too long, taking the sting out of its eventual revelations. This also left me cold when it came to terror, and as this takes up another big chunk of pages, I was beginning to wonder whether the woodland willies would ever wander over.
Compass Wood by Mark West takes the number three slot, and finally delivers some decent frights as a shortcut leads to a new father encountering a dangerous lunatic. This was very much up my alley, a condensed slasher movie of sorts, with tree-related impalings, that moment when someone gets stuck and you find yourself clenching your fists and hissing at them to get up, and a decent helping of hopelessness. The image of the lunatic in pursuit of the story’s lead character stuck in my head for a while after the punchy ending.
Dendrochronology by Penny Jones is the absolute best story of the bunch, masterful in terms of horror, devastating tragedy and all-around brilliance. While this doesn’t take you amongst the trees as such, it places you alongside a damaged young woman as she encounters a range of vile characters throughout her life. The link to the collection’s woody concept is one best discovered for yourself, and it’s not only clever, it’s also heartbreaking. To be left feeling so moved in so few pages is testament to the quality here, and while it’s not easy to get through, it stands far taller than any of the other stories, and it makes me want to seek out more of the author’s work. Gripping, emotionally overwhelming, essential.
The Teddy Bears’ Picnic by Phil Sloman, the book’s editor, rounds out the collection. It’s a disturbing tale of childhood gone wrong, with a wry sense of humour peppering its darker moments. What it isn’t is a story about bears, though there are teddies in the woods, and despite its occasional nods to the nursery rhyme, this final offering didn’t quite click with me, I think because that title hangs so heavily above it. Take the references to the old rhyme away and this tale of family strife and innocence lost works a lot better.
With some decent story notes once the stories are done, The Woods is a fairly neat little bundle of tales. Not an essential purchase overall, but I’d say it’s worth picking up just for Penny Jones’ contribution.
The Sixth anthology in our PentAnth range brings you five more chilling tales that have their roots in the dark terrors that lurk in the woods.
A horror fan and writer since who knows when. Ben started dabbling in online reviews around 2001. Nowadays he has a booktube channel, which features bizarre book reviews and further nonsense. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably looking at GIFs and eating Mexican food.
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