Deep within the Wood, a young woman lies dead. Not a mark on her body. No trace of her murderer. Only her chipped glass slippers hint at her identity.
The Woodcutter, keeper of the peace between the Twelve Kingdoms of Man and the Realm of the Faerie, must find the maiden’s killer before others share her fate. Guided by the wind and aided by three charmed axes won from the River God, the Woodcutter begins his hunt, searching for clues in the whispering domains of the enchanted unknown.
But quickly he finds that one murdered maiden is not the only nefarious mystery afoot: one of Odin’s hellhounds has escaped, a pixie dust drug trade runs rampant, and more young girls go missing. Looming in the shadows is a malevolent, power-hungry queen, and she will stop at nothing to destroy the Twelve Kingdoms and annihilate the Royal Fae…unless the Woodcutter can outmaneuver her and save the gentle souls of the wood.
I’ve tried valiantly for many months to get through The Woodcutter – I started back in March or April – and as I’m not even halfway through and am resistant to picking it up once more, I’m not entirely sure I’ll ever finish.
Let me say this at the start: I really like the concept, and in some ways that just makes it worse. The story follows the omnipresent woodcutter character who passes in and out of fairy tales, saving the heroine and helping to bring down the evil wolf/witch/whathaveyou. In this book, he is one person, fulfilling a mystical role and helping people every day. According to the summary on the back, he will save entire kingdoms and hundreds, possibly thousands of lives, but I admit I didn’t get far enough for hints of that plot to show through. The setting, too, was a fascinating one – twelve kingdoms living daily with magic and fairies all around them, and a magic wood where these all reside, with the Woodcutter acting as mediator between the two. It was a concept and a world that I wanted to explore and see more of. Unfortunately, I might not be able to.
The main problem with the book is the writing, which comes through in various ways. Danley twice (in the pages I read) used “ten years and ten years more” instead of just saying “twenty years”, and once describes a person as smelling of “spice and forbidden thoughts” (personally I’ve never smelled a forbidden thought, but if anyone can enlighten me that would be much appreciated). Out of the blue, Danley uses the phrase “cleft in twain”, when the language in the rest of the book was entirely normal, making this phrase glaringly out of place; the language used in a book should be consistent, and no matter how nice an older word or phrase might sound, it has no place with narration that is entirely modern-day. The opening pages take time out of a woman’s death scene to describe how her “white ball gown of gossamer” was gathered in her hands, and mentions her “strawberry curls” being blown from her hairdo to wrap around her “swan-like neck”. She is the first of ten people in the first forty pages to die of fright.
But all these are minor problems compared to the book’s main problem: there’s no investment in the plot or characters, nothing that tugs at your heartstrings and makes you hope it’ll all be okay.
It’s not that the characters are unlikeable or anything, or that the plot itself is bland; they both had a chance to be really exciting and well-done. The problem comes in two forms: one, that no character has any defining characteristics that make them stand out and their personality show through, so they would fade into indistinguishability if it weren’t for their names tacked on to actions and dialogue. Two, it’s that the tone is the same all throughout. I read through a scene with Odin and his hellhounds that in no way stood out from the rest of the book, leaving me confused when the Woodcutter refers to his traumatising experience; it took me a few moments to realise the entire scene was supposed to be incredibly scary, and I still have no idea why it’s supposed to be terrifying. I could identify scenes which were supposed to be sad or dramatic, but based more on the subject they dealt with – death, running for one’s life – than how they were written. Similarly, the only reason I knew meeting the Faerie Queen was important and glamorous was because that’s how fairies are thought of nowadays, and while the death of fairies is supposedly a very bad thing, the only way I can tell is by the Woodcutter saying so.
The author bio says that Danley is an award-winning playwright, and therein I think lies the problem. In a play, all you need to put down on paper is the setting, the events, the dialogue; the actors and stage-hands create atmosphere and drama to bring out the nature and tone of a story. In a novel, the author needs to do all that themselves, and Danley unfortunately failed to do that. The novel reads like a collection of stage directions and dialogue: some notes on the scene and what characters are doing and what they say during it, and to get anything else out of the text you’d need actors, a costume designer, and someone for lighting and special effects. With the little we’re given, there’s nothing for us to get invested in, no reason for us to identify with the characters – in fact, hardly anything we can use to identify with characters, as any quirks or charm the Woodcutter or Faerie Queen have are lost on the reader through lack of description.
Overall, I feel sad with this book. It’s like the bare bones of a story, without anything to give it charm or personality. If it was a play, it would probably be stunning and I’m sure I would have loved it; as a novel I find it sorely lacking. Danley has a vivid imagination and can come up with wonderful and imaginative worlds; it’s her prose that needs work. A bit more description, being more clear on the emotions the characters are feeling or the way they say things and a bit more attention paid to telling us how an event affects a character and this could have been a wonderful book.
I won’t give the book a rating as I never finished it, but as it stands I’m sorry to say that I don’t recommend this book. I hope Danley’s future books improve on this one; if so, I think I could really enjoy them. But The Woodcutter is only half a story, and needs completing before I would recommend it.