The Forest is a genre-spanning, densely-plotted narrative that packs both an emotional punch and an experience that keeps you guessing.
Synopsis: For Tricia and Alex, the idea is simple: find and rescue their friend, Sam, from his insane mother. But when they enter the forest, they discover that their idea is anything but simple. Because this forest isn’t like any other. In this forest, a silver mist hangs. In this forest, a simple trip of a few miles can turn into a nightmare. Twenty years later, Tricia and Alex remember nothing of what happened that day they lost their friend. They know only that three kids went in, but only two came out.
The other works I’ve reviewed from Michaelbrent Collings (Stranger Still Book Review and Scavenger Hunt Book Review) have been focused on characters who inhabit an overtly violent world, filled with kidnappers, pop-culture obsessed psychopaths and other unpleasant characters and situations. The Forest stands apart with a focus on supernatural elements as well as having two truly likeable central characters. Still, this isn’t Collings taking it easy on his readers – that visceral style is ever present, with the otherworldly qualities allowing for physical impossibilities to be explored in detail.
The bulk of the story concerns Tricia and Alex as adults, their marriage strained but definitely not broken following the loss of their young son in a tragic accident. Adding to their woes is the fact that son Sammy was their last reminder of childhood friend Sam, also lost under tragic circumstances when they were teenagers. In many ways their lives have been defined by loss, tragedy and parental neglect so their relationship is the most stability they have. Using flashbacks, their teenage courtship gives an insight into their bond across the years. They are easy to root for, making their challenges all the more affecting.
The story stays fresh throughout, switching between times and perspectives. While this initially takes a bit more attention to wrap your head around, it soon settles into the internal voice of the characters, making it easier to be swept away as the story proceeds into a more mysterious and multi-layered one. The scale of the narrative unfolds gradually and is all the more impressive for the control exerted to maintain attention without revealing too much too soon.
Overall, The Forest is an impressive, engrossing read. So much so I read it within one sitting. Combining a core relationship that is believable, despite the incredible circumstances around it with disturbing and fantastical subject matter makes this a book well worth picking up.