“Shadow Forest” – Matt Haig

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I am literally in the shadow of this book. It's a lame association, but try and roll with it. Next time I'll aim to take a picture in a forest ... next time that's relevant to the book I'm reading, that is.

Samuel Blink is the hero of this story, but he doesn’t know it yet. He has no idea a giant log is about to fall from the sky and change his life forever. He hasn’t the slightest clue Martha will disappear into Shadow Forest. A forest full of one-eyed trolls, the sinister huldre-folk, deadly Truth Pixies and a witch who steals shadows.

The blurb, and the cover, had me believing I was in for a Lemony Snicket inspired adventure full of wit and satire, unfortunately, while the style attempts to mimic the dark, casual format of A Series of Unfortunate Events, it just isn’t able to commit. The author blinks in and out of addressing the audience with chatty writing, dipping frequently into traditional third-person story-telling, creating a confusion of styles that don’t sit well together. Just when one is starting to flow, the other will usurp it, and so-on and so-forth throughout the novel.   There are two ‘note-from-the-author’ chapters  displaced throughout, which are funny, but appear as a hurried after-thought – something to give a chatty vibe, which just isn’t there. Add to this needless pages of script-style writing, and the mix is pretty heavy going.

Over-all the writing is juvenile; Haig  info-dumps character descriptions (and repeats those descriptions several times in the space of a few paragraphs), and the dialogue is clumsy and unrealistic. He also breaks the show-not-tell rule throughout. The first chapter is both clever and surprising, but after the initial hook, I found myself struggling to carry on. The plot is a good adventure, once you get about a third of the way in, journeying the enchanted landscape of a magic forest, and is unique in its use of Norwegian folklore.  For children this would be a pretty fun and engaging story, but it’s placement in the teen/YA shelves is a little baffling. The jokes are cliché and childish, the characters overstated and shallow. While I did enjoy some of the quirky adults, such as a Norwegian cheese-shop owner, and a two-headed troll, I couldn’t relate to either of the child protagonists.

It’s a fun read, with good-hearted adventure, and a cushy moral undertone. It’s a story to read to young-children before bed.

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