by Gabby Hutchinson Crouch
Magic is forbidden in Myrsina, along with various other abominations, such as girls doing maths. This is bad news for Gretel Mudd, who doesn’t perform magic, but does know a lot of maths. When the sinister masked Huntsmen accuse Gretel of witchcraft, she is forced to flee into the neighbouring Darkwood, where witches and monsters dwell.
There, she happens upon Buttercup, a witch who can’t help turning things into gingerbread, Jack Trott, who can make plants grow at will, the White Knight with her band of dwarves and a talking spider called Trevor. These aren’t the terrifying villains she’s been warned about all her life. They’re actually quite nice. Well… most of them.
With the Huntsmen on the warpath, Gretel must act fast to save both the Darkwood and her home village, while unravelling the rhetoric and lies that have demonised magical beings for far too long.
Take a journey into the Darkwood in this modern fairy tale that will bewitch adults and younger readers alike.
I received an eARC of Darkwood from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
One of my favourite tropes in fantasy is the banned/outlawed magic trope, so as soon as I came across this Middle Grade novel on NetGalley, which not only includes that trope but also follows a girl with an interest in STEM, I knew I wanted to give it a try.
Darkwood is the first book in a new fantasy MG series following Gretel Mudd, who ends up chased away from her home of Nearby Village and into the Darkwood after the Huntsmen wrongly accuse her of witchcraft. In Darkwood she falls in with a band of real witches – and a talking spider called Trevor – who, like her, have been forced from their homes, and together they try to put a stop to the Huntsmen’s tyranny.
I had a feeling this book would be funny given that it’s written by one of the writers of the Horrible Histories series, but I didn’t expect it to be quite as funny as it is. I laughed out loud several times while reading this book, and what I loved most was how this isn’t a book that patronises its readers; there are jokes for children and adults alike in here and, outside of the humour, actions have real consequences in this book.
Darkwood is brimming with likeable characters. Gretel so easily could have been one of those irritatingly precocious children who doesn’t feel real, but she’s written with such warmth and a brilliant sense of humour and Hutchinson Crouch isn’t afraid to let her make mistakes that she must learn from. In particular, while Gretel has been forced to hide how clever she is and her particular talent for science and maths because she’s a girl, she herself has been perpetuating harmful stereotypes about the creatures of the Darkwood. I think this book will be an eye-opener for a lot of younger readers without feeling gimmicky or preachy.
Darkwood also includes a lot of fairy tale characters that those of us who grew up with the Grimms’ Fairy Tales will be familiar with, but they’re not quite the characters we know – this book is more Shrek than Disney – and they feel so fresh and original despite being some of the oldest characters in western literature. I’m not going to mention who they are because I think part of the fun is meeting them as Gretel meets them, but I loved her little gang of misfits and I loved this book. I can’t wait for the next one!