Book Review: The Dark Wood by Sydney Mann

I finished this book a few nights ago, and I want to say so much about it. But I also don’t want to spoil it. This is the kind of book you read and then find yourself explaining all the characters and plot to someone (Not that I did this. Or that my husband sat patiently listening for half an hour…)

The Dark Wood by Sydney Mann is a fantasy told from the view of Stella, a fierce, independent young woman who knows how to swing a sword and has grown up understanding familial love, loss, friendship and what it means to be a good person. She’s pragmatic, mostly makes common sense decisions and, I think, easily likable as a character, which immediately won points with me.

Stella lives in Noctum, a land of night. As in, never the sun shall rise. While I had a few questions about how this might actually play out (a land of forever night), they could easily be swept under the reader rug of “it’s fantasy, go with it.” And Sydney does a gorgeous job of writing into the mystery and adventure that living in a land that’s always dark might cause.

Into this already mysterious landscape step two men, both mysterious in different ways. Obviously, they’re kind of opposites, and obviously they both have some sort of interest in Stella. Also, they’re both good looking and have some swoon-worthy characteristics. And I did think I’d have to push through despite annoyance at some sort of love triangle, but I was so pleasantly surprised by how it all played out and the way the characters approached relationships and the challenges before them.

The Dark Wood is also full of fun side characters, including Stella’s friends, and mysteries such as the Shade, which are creatures that terrify the people of Darkwood and are very difficult to slay. There’s also an evil king who seems like an insurmountable enemy and a number of laws meant to keep the people oppressed.

At this point, I’m just going to leave a few bullet points with some highlights/impressions/thoughts and try not to spoil the ride for other readers. Because if you enjoy this type of fantasy, this indie author is definitely worth it. Go buy this one now.

Some random thoughts on The Dark Wood.

  • I cried at one point. I’m not an easy crier, and this wasn’t a synthetic heart-string pull. There’s some beautiful, tear-worthy stuff in this book.
  • Sydney wrote a real romance into this fantasy adventure book. And by that, I mean that the characters show us what real love looks like (on more than a romantic level, actually), which is something that I think many stories fall short of.
  • The book is a clean read, and I’d say it’s appropriate for teens and up.
  • The battle scenes are exciting, believable and well paced.
  • It’s a fun adventure fantasy with added romance, but it’s also a Christian allegory. It’s well-written and subtle and not meant to preach, and readers of all backgrounds will enjoy this book. But for those who do enjoy Christ allegories, the one in this book is beautiful.  

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