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A Dark and Starless Forest

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When her siblings start to go missing, a girl must confront the dark thing that lives in the forest—and the growing darkness in herself—in this debut YA contemporary fantasy for fans of Wilder Girls. Derry and her eight siblings live in an isolated house by the lake, separated from the rest of the world by an eerie and menacing forest. Frank, the man who raised them after t When her siblings start to go missing, a girl must confront the dark thing that lives in the forest—and the growing darkness in herself—in this debut YA contemporary fantasy for fans of Wilder Girls. Derry and her eight siblings live in an isolated house by the lake, separated from the rest of the world by an eerie and menacing forest. Frank, the man who raised them after their families abandoned them, says it’s for their own good. After all, the world isn’t safe for people with magic. And Derry feels safe—most of the time. Until the night her eldest sister disappears. Jane and Derry swore to each other that they’d never go into the forest, not after their last trip ended in blood, but Derry is sure she saw Jane walk into the trees. When another sibling goes missing and Frank’s true colors start to show, feeling safe is no longer an option. Derry will risk anything to protect the family she has left. Even if that means returning to the forest that has started calling to Derry in her missing siblings’ voices. As Derry spends more time amidst the trees, her magic grows more powerful . . . and so does the darkness inside her, the viciousness she wants to pretend doesn’t exist. But saving her siblings from the forest and from Frank might mean embracing the darkness. And that just might be the most dangerous thing of all.


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When her siblings start to go missing, a girl must confront the dark thing that lives in the forest—and the growing darkness in herself—in this debut YA contemporary fantasy for fans of Wilder Girls. Derry and her eight siblings live in an isolated house by the lake, separated from the rest of the world by an eerie and menacing forest. Frank, the man who raised them after t When her siblings start to go missing, a girl must confront the dark thing that lives in the forest—and the growing darkness in herself—in this debut YA contemporary fantasy for fans of Wilder Girls. Derry and her eight siblings live in an isolated house by the lake, separated from the rest of the world by an eerie and menacing forest. Frank, the man who raised them after their families abandoned them, says it’s for their own good. After all, the world isn’t safe for people with magic. And Derry feels safe—most of the time. Until the night her eldest sister disappears. Jane and Derry swore to each other that they’d never go into the forest, not after their last trip ended in blood, but Derry is sure she saw Jane walk into the trees. When another sibling goes missing and Frank’s true colors start to show, feeling safe is no longer an option. Derry will risk anything to protect the family she has left. Even if that means returning to the forest that has started calling to Derry in her missing siblings’ voices. As Derry spends more time amidst the trees, her magic grows more powerful . . . and so does the darkness inside her, the viciousness she wants to pretend doesn’t exist. But saving her siblings from the forest and from Frank might mean embracing the darkness. And that just might be the most dangerous thing of all.

30 review for A Dark and Starless Forest

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mel (Epic Reading)

    Look at this cover! The girl on the front isn’t a teeny tiny skinny gal. Instead she’s a size so many girls are and it’s gorgeous!! I just had to share. Hopefully the book is as wonderful as it’s cover. This ends my fan girl moment (don’t tell anyone I’m closer to 40 than 30, lol).

  2. 5 out of 5

    ♠ TABI⁷ ♠

    I . . . I have nine siblings (okay eight but together we're nine) We grew up in a secluded house . . . WHAT HAS BEEN HIDDEN FROM ME? TELL ME NOW, BOOK!! I . . . I have nine siblings (okay eight but together we're nine) We grew up in a secluded house . . . WHAT HAS BEEN HIDDEN FROM ME? TELL ME NOW, BOOK!!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bethany

    Okay, so I went into this book expecting a fleshed out dark fantasy. Instead what I got was a story about abuse, neglect, grooming, found family, and probably the foster care system, but with magic. That's not a bad thing, and I think it's a valuable story to tell, just not the one I was anticipating. So I'm letting other readers know: this book may not be quite what you're expecting given the marketing. That aside, A Dark and Starless Forest very much feels like a debut. A clunky beginning that Okay, so I went into this book expecting a fleshed out dark fantasy. Instead what I got was a story about abuse, neglect, grooming, found family, and probably the foster care system, but with magic. That's not a bad thing, and I think it's a valuable story to tell, just not the one I was anticipating. So I'm letting other readers know: this book may not be quite what you're expecting given the marketing. That aside, A Dark and Starless Forest very much feels like a debut. A clunky beginning that info-dumps character information and diversity check boxes. (Note that I think the book taken as a whole does a reasonably good job of integrating some of that diversity into character development, particularly for queer, trans, and fat characters, and does okay with the racial diversity. But the way it's introduced reminds me of how Babysitters Club books used to begin: the tomboy, the quirky Asian, the bookish blonde etc.) There are some pacing issues, plot conveniences, character choices that don't always make sense...that sort of thing. However, there is definitely something here that I think is going to speak to certain readers, and I'm interested to see future work from this author. This does a great job of depicting the emotional effect of ongoing neglect, psychological & physical abuse, and grooming (not sexual grooming in this case, but clearly the magic piece of it is being used as a stand-in). And I think the use of magic helps to create a bit of distance from the topics being addressed in a way that readers who have experienced trauma might find helpful to aid in processing. This mirrors the way that children who are different have been abandoned by their families, perhaps because they are queer or trans. Frank is a predator who is disturbingly good at what he does, making these children feel like they have a safe home. There's a lot to unpack here and I think if you go in knowing what you're getting, you may do better with it. I received an advance copy of this book for review via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kal ★ Reader Voracious

    "When her siblings start to go missing, a girl must confront the dark thing that lives in the forest—and the growing darkness in herself" A fat girl on the cover of YA Contemporary Fantasy?! 2021 is truly bringing the blessings! This debut also sounds amazing, so I can't wait for September! Blog | Twitter | Pinterest "When her siblings start to go missing, a girl must confront the dark thing that lives in the forest—and the growing darkness in herself" A fat girl on the cover of YA Contemporary Fantasy?! 2021 is truly bringing the blessings! This debut also sounds amazing, so I can't wait for September! Blog | Twitter | Pinterest

  5. 5 out of 5

    Janna

    "A Dark and Starless Forest" by Sarah Hollowell is one of the best books I've read in a while. I was so excited to read it and it was everything I imagined and more. This story is about Derry who has eight siblings who all live together with Frank, the man who raised them after they were abandoned by their parents, in an isolated house near a forest. All of the siblings have magical powers and when some of them start disappearing, they have to make use of them to figure out what's happening to th "A Dark and Starless Forest" by Sarah Hollowell is one of the best books I've read in a while. I was so excited to read it and it was everything I imagined and more. This story is about Derry who has eight siblings who all live together with Frank, the man who raised them after they were abandoned by their parents, in an isolated house near a forest. All of the siblings have magical powers and when some of them start disappearing, they have to make use of them to figure out what's happening to their family.. The representation in this book was so on point. Derry and several of her siblings are fat. There are several siblings who are queer, including a non-binary pansexual Mexican-American character and a trans girl. Several of the siblings are Black. One of them is Deaf. There's representation of anxiety, ADHD and depression. None of the characters felt flat or reduced to stereoypes. I enjoyed getting to read about each sibling equally because they were all valuable to the story. I loved that this is a book about family and mystery, there was no romance plot and it worked so well. Please, we need more of that. The magic system was understandable, yet super intriguing and I would have loved to read even more about each siblings' individual powers. The writing style captured the dark, enchanting and mysterious atmosphere beautifully. This was the feminist urban fantasy book of my dreams and I hope I could convince you to put this on your TBR! content warnings: murder, anxiety, depression, violence, emotional abuse, torture I received an ARC from Netgalley and ClarionTeen in exchange for an honest opinion. bookish links: instagram / tiktok / twitter

  6. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

    This book was truly delightful to experience. Amazing found family vibes, unique and diverse forms of magic, mysterious and creepy plot, and pacing that will have readers flipping pages as fast as possible. The story is much darker than I expected, but Hollowell balances it out with beautiful found family moments so the book never ends up feeling too heavy. Things get super dark, the danger feels real, but the things worth fighting for always remain the forefront of the story, which I appreciate This book was truly delightful to experience. Amazing found family vibes, unique and diverse forms of magic, mysterious and creepy plot, and pacing that will have readers flipping pages as fast as possible. The story is much darker than I expected, but Hollowell balances it out with beautiful found family moments so the book never ends up feeling too heavy. Things get super dark, the danger feels real, but the things worth fighting for always remain the forefront of the story, which I appreciate. Hollowell is definitely an author to watch. There are so many things to applaud about her debut, including the broad diversity of her cast. The main cast includes characters of many different races, sexualities, gender identities. There are characters who are deaf, characters who are fat, and characters dealing with many different aspects of mental health. There’s something for everyone and aside from the beginning of the book where all the characters and their traits are listed, it never comes across as anything other than a naturally occurring microcosm of individuals. It was especially cool to see sign language featured so prominently in the story, as I feel we don’t often encounter that. I personally found great joy reading a book where the fat girl was the fully capable hero, rather than a nerdy sidekick or someone to mock. Another great quality of this book is the intricate plotting. This story isn’t afraid to go places, unraveling a ton of additional mysteries along the way. I constantly found myself questioning the things happening, trying to map out what was connected and to anticipate what was coming next. It was all great fun. Just as soon as I thought I’d figured something out and hit a comfortable stride in the story, something exciting would happen to shake things up and drag more questions to the surface. It was a wild ride that was always difficult to put down. I also really enjoyed the magic system in this book. Hollowell leaves a lot to our imaginations (which is fine) but I liked how each character had their own individual, seemingly random set of abilities to nurture. No ones magic was even remotely similar and some were inherently stronger than others, but that was always framed as being perfectly okay. I loved how natural and fluid it all seemed. I always really enjoy forms of green magic, so following Derry’s growth was especially enjoyable to me. Overall, a super strong debut from an author I’m sure to check out again in the future. Great characters, exciting plot, a quick and twisty ride. Would definitely recommend without reservation. Special thanks to NetGalley and Clarion Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 10/23/21 update: just finished this and it’s STUNNING! Sarah Hollowell is one to watch, for sure. Full review soon. Initial reaction: The way I just got emotional seeing a fat girl on the cover... *slams the Want To Read button*

  7. 5 out of 5

    claire

    A really captivating witch-y book, blood-spattered and perfect for October with Halloween being almost here. An enchanting story about the importance of family and magic. Derry lives with her eight sisters in a secluded lake house, next to a forest — things are seemingly okay till her sisters start disappearing while she develops a new kinship for the forest and discovers a new part of herself in the process of protecting her loved ones. I enjoyed reading this quite a lot, it got me really investe A really captivating witch-y book, blood-spattered and perfect for October with Halloween being almost here. An enchanting story about the importance of family and magic. Derry lives with her eight sisters in a secluded lake house, next to a forest — things are seemingly okay till her sisters start disappearing while she develops a new kinship for the forest and discovers a new part of herself in the process of protecting her loved ones. I enjoyed reading this quite a lot, it got me really invested and the plot is quite unique. I loved the forest, the tension and the build-up for many parts. Honestly, i loved Derry’s character development, it’s not ideal but it’s just so fitting with the whole vibe of the book and such a nice touch. The diversity is a really nice addition, too. My only concerns were that the other sisters didn’t really grow on me, only a few did just a bit, and i think there was a lot of wasted potential in that aspect, and that the ending seemed a bit rushed, while the rest of the book had a steady flow. But I would generally recommend this ! It’s a really pleasurable read. ( thank you to the publishers and Netgalley for providing me with an e-ARC of this book, in exchange of an honest opinion )

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chloe

    *Spoiler free* I've followed this author online for awhile before her book deal was even announced, so I was siked when it finally did! I'm of course a sucker for creepy forest stories, and this one features a fat girl main character, who must look out for her siblings as they are taken into the woods. She must also grapple with the darkness inside her as well. It sounded incredibly intriguing, and I couldn't wait to read it! Trigger warnings: emotional and physical abuse, anxiety, depression Holy *Spoiler free* I've followed this author online for awhile before her book deal was even announced, so I was siked when it finally did! I'm of course a sucker for creepy forest stories, and this one features a fat girl main character, who must look out for her siblings as they are taken into the woods. She must also grapple with the darkness inside her as well. It sounded incredibly intriguing, and I couldn't wait to read it! Trigger warnings: emotional and physical abuse, anxiety, depression Holy HECK, I love this book. It reads like a rush of water, a lily resting in a puddle, and there's this pain and anger that lurks beneath the surface, that blooms from thorns beneath the skin and secrets hidden behind the nice. It's so good I kind of want to scream. I'm going to start with the writing, because this book is gorgeously, gorgeously written. It feels fresh, and light, kind of like a breeze lifting clothing off the skin. At the same time, it doesn't shy away from the horrors that this book holds. There is a terror to it, a horrifying part, and it feels like a gut punch. Little lines were slipped in there that had the breath stalling my chest. Hollowell knows how to place lines just so to get the maximum affect. Truly, this book was written so incredibly well. The familial aspect of this book was also something that I completely fell in love with. There is such a strong sisterhood between Derry and her siblings. There are nine sisters in all, including Derry. It's a lot of characters to introduce all at once, but I found myself completely in love with all of them. They are all so different, in their powers and just who they are as people. But all of them are able to fit into the story. They all handle themselves differently, but they all love each other so, so much. That love, that bond that they have was something spectacular. I really, really loved Derry. She is a fat, anxious girl who can do plant based magic. She was freaking awesome. It was so cool to see a fat character be badass and awesome. Her fatness wasn't the center of the story, and I thought that was really cool. The forest, and the darkness this book holds, was also something that I thought was done really, really well. It's the kind of thing that digs, deep into the skin, into the marrow of the bones. It feels like a whirlwind of emotion. The darkness of the outside, and the darkness of the inside. The horrors that take place in both. The beauty that can be found in certain darkness, but how is twisted to be seen that way? What is twisted and what is not? It's horrifying, and terrifying. Speaking of the forest, that was also something that I loved. I loved the hidden beauty in it, and I loved how there always seemed to be layers to it. It's a mystery that has a lot of turns, and I loved exploring all of them, from the creepy girls to the lightning bugs to the creatures. I also adored the magic! Every person has their own unique type from plants to healing. Magic is just super cool on its own, but I loved how it intertwined with the plot of this book and how it was used in the book. Yes, I am being vague, but I don't want to spoil anything. There were also moments in this book that were absolutely gut wrenching. I wanted to sob during multiple of them. This book knows how to pack a punch and it does that well. Just, so, so good. This book also features Black, Mexican American, hard of hearing, trans, and non-binary characters! I can only comment on the trans and nonbinary rep, which I liked, but I am unable to comment on the rest other than that they were there. Overall, this book stunned and floored me. It is brilliantly good, holding a darkness and a magic to it, family and the love that comes from that, the anger and the pain that blooms, and the forest. It's such a good book, and I love it so, so much.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rachel & Lindsey

    i really enjoyed this one! it definitely didn't disappoint, which is great because it was one of my top anticipated reads of the fall. the best part about this book is definitely the vast representation, including a trans character, a non-binary character, at least one aro-ace character, a lesbian character, multiple characters of color, a deaf character (and a lot of ASL usage!) and 4 plus-size characters. i really liked how their identities helped to characterize them, but they weren't the basi i really enjoyed this one! it definitely didn't disappoint, which is great because it was one of my top anticipated reads of the fall. the best part about this book is definitely the vast representation, including a trans character, a non-binary character, at least one aro-ace character, a lesbian character, multiple characters of color, a deaf character (and a lot of ASL usage!) and 4 plus-size characters. i really liked how their identities helped to characterize them, but they weren't the basis of their storyline (instead, their magic was!). stories that do use identity as a catalyst are definitely important, but i think it's also important to also include storylines where the story includes them, but isn't determined by them. also, the cover? absolutely gorgeous. the plot twists in this book were easy to spot from the beginning, but it wasn't so expected that it made my eyes roll. i was (view spoiler)[ extremely suspicious of frank from the start, but i wasn't exactly sure how he was using the siblings, so learning that he drained them of their magic to live forever wasn't very obvious right away (hide spoiler)] . my only issue was with derry, and i think that's just because of how she ends up at the end of the novel. instead of a gradual change, i felt like a switch flipped in the last 40 pages, and she was completely different. it could also be because i read almost 300 pages in one night though. definitely make sure to check any tw before you start reading. enjoy! - lindsey

  10. 5 out of 5

    Miranda

    Content warnings: Emotional and physical abuse of children, gore. A Dark and Starless Forest is a solid novel that falls prey to some typical issues in a debut novel. The two biggest issues I found in the novel were the pacing and the themes. The pacing dragged in the middle and it seemed Hollowell wasn't quite sure what she needed to have Derry do. The plot needed to have Derry act in a certain way, so she did, but it didn't necessarily make sense with the events happening in said plot. The sens Content warnings: Emotional and physical abuse of children, gore. A Dark and Starless Forest is a solid novel that falls prey to some typical issues in a debut novel. The two biggest issues I found in the novel were the pacing and the themes. The pacing dragged in the middle and it seemed Hollowell wasn't quite sure what she needed to have Derry do. The plot needed to have Derry act in a certain way, so she did, but it didn't necessarily make sense with the events happening in said plot. The sense of urgency at having two of her sisters missing never quite sticks, since Derry and the rest of her siblings are mostly unable to go out and look for them and so have to continue living their lives as normal. Although Derry does ignore this rule, her forays into the forest become more about growing her magical powers than it does finding her sisters. Hollowell does try to explain in the story why the siblings mostly have to stay in the house, but it's not quite good enough reasoning. The themes were close to being pinned down, but another draft of the novel would have made them clearer. Derry is surrounded by two main enemies: Frank, her adoptive father who's teaching her and her siblings how to control their magic for possibly dark purposes, and the forest that surrounds the house they live in. The atmosphere of the house was claustrophobic and oppressive, but the forest lacked the same danger and darkness. Hollowell clearly tries to state that both Frank and the forest want to use the girls for their own ends, but she doesn't quite get there in regards to the forest. Derry is a character that some readers will probably dislike, as she's mostly passive and reacts to things instead of causing things to happen, and she's avoidant of the facts staring her in the face. However I was fine with this, as Derry is living in a situation that's almost a cult. Her family is completely cut off from the rest of the world, and whatever they know about it, they learn from Frank. Frank is emotionally abusive and gaslights the siblings often, and Derry, as a sixteen year old girl who's had to view Frank as a parental figure, is realistic in her reluctance to realize and accept that Frank is dangerous and harmful. While the bond between Derry and most of her siblings is evident, the siblings themselves are too numerous and subsequently their characters fall to the wayside. A couple stand out, like Elle, Jane, and Winnie, while others were little more than names and attributes. I do applaud Hollowell for making her cast a good representation of diversity, but some of that was integrated into the novel better than others, such as Brooke's deafness being dealt with by all the siblings using ASL for a good chunk of the novel. Personally, I will say that as a fat woman, it was a relief to read about a fat main character and never have her weight come up as anything other than a neutral description of herself. There are no fat jokes, no one harms her because she's fat or uses her fatness to harm her. Derry simply exists as a fat girl, and that was wonderful. There was enough that I liked in A Dark and Starless Forest that I'll likely read what Hollowell writes next. Most of the problems in this novel are either debut issues or stylistic choices that some readers may not gel with, such as the worldbuilding beyond the house and the forest being thin to non-existent. Readers looking for a richly detailed contemporary fantasy won't find it here, but they will find a story about a girl discovering her magic and saving her siblings from an abusive man, and that's a story worth telling even with the issues. 2.75, rounded up to 3. See more of my reviews at Red Hat Cat Reviews! I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Thanks to the publisher for providing an eARC of A Dark and Starless Forest in exchange for an honest review. Queer witches! Need I say more? A Dark and Starless Forest has a beautifully diverse cast, with most (if not all) of the cast being confirmed queer (from what I remember, pan, trans, ace, and nonbinary rep are all confirmed by name). The sibling group is also really racially and body-type and one of them is Deaf so they all also use sign. Hollowell is able to demonstrate this level of dive Thanks to the publisher for providing an eARC of A Dark and Starless Forest in exchange for an honest review. Queer witches! Need I say more? A Dark and Starless Forest has a beautifully diverse cast, with most (if not all) of the cast being confirmed queer (from what I remember, pan, trans, ace, and nonbinary rep are all confirmed by name). The sibling group is also really racially and body-type and one of them is Deaf so they all also use sign. Hollowell is able to demonstrate this level of diversity without it ever feeling forced or tokenizing which I really appreciated. The story was different than I expected, but in a really wonderful way. While the girls are magical, the threats they face are more interpersonal and psychological. I really loved watching our main character develop in the face of all that and loved her journey from the beginning to end of the book. I do think a few sections felt a tad redundant but overall, this was really well done.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mia

    I liked plus size rep and found family aspect I found book to be interesting okay read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Gabriele | QueerBookdom

    DRC provided by Clarion Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Representation: fat queer protagonist, fat deaf queer asexual Mexican secondary character, fat non-binary pansexual Mexican secondary character, trans secondary character, Black tertiary characters, Black tertiary character with ADHD, fat asexual tertiary character. Content Warning: anxiety, depression, violence, death, emotional and physical abuse. A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell is a dark contemporary fan DRC provided by Clarion Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Representation: fat queer protagonist, fat deaf queer asexual Mexican secondary character, fat non-binary pansexual Mexican secondary character, trans secondary character, Black tertiary characters, Black tertiary character with ADHD, fat asexual tertiary character. Content Warning: anxiety, depression, violence, death, emotional and physical abuse. A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell is a dark contemporary fantasy about found families and internal journeys, starring a fabulous diverse cast of characters. Derry is an alchemist with strong botanical powers. When her powers first manifest, she is brought to Frank, a man who takes care of people like her, protecting them from society in a secluded house and teaching them how to control and develop their powers. Years after her arrival, there are nine alchemists who live under the same roof, each with a unique power. Life goes on in the usual manner until one night, Derry wakes up and notices her roommate and best-friend Jane has disappeared. She decides to sneak into the off-limits forest that surrounds the near lake to look for her, but she is nowhere to be found, except for an ephemeral sensation Derry feels. As the days pass and Jane is still missing, Derry keeps returning to the forest, lead there by an uncontrollable desire to find her friend and an unknown urge. I loved how this novel started slow with just a hint of eeriness, but then it turned up the volume on the macabre and it increased gradually each chapter until the atmosphere got as dark as night. Another excellent aspect of this book was the diversity Hollowell included in the story as she featured effortlessly characters with disabilities, different sexual orientations and gender identities and body shapes. My favourite characters were Brooke, a fat and deaf girl of Mexican descent who had the strongest powers among all of the alchemists; and my sweet non-binary child Violet who had the power to create spectacular glamours. A Dark and Starless Forest was such a frightful, yet refreshing and surprising reading experience I whole-heartedly recommend.

  14. 5 out of 5

    charlotte,

    Rep: bi mc with anxiety, Black & Mexican American side characters, pan nonbinary & trans side characters CWs: physical abuse, emotional abuse, blood, murder

  15. 5 out of 5

    Eule Luftschloss

    trigger warning (view spoiler)[ gaslighting, emotional abuse, gaslighting, trauma, grief, being drugged (hide spoiler)] Every seems normal as the first of Derry's siblings goes missing. Since her ability is to grow plantlife, she only finds it natural that the forest starts talking to her. This book had all the elements I want in books. Queer rep, including trans, non binary and ace. Disabled rep that impacts the daily life of the characters - we have a deaf person and sign language is frequently trigger warning (view spoiler)[ gaslighting, emotional abuse, gaslighting, trauma, grief, being drugged (hide spoiler)] Every seems normal as the first of Derry's siblings goes missing. Since her ability is to grow plantlife, she only finds it natural that the forest starts talking to her. This book had all the elements I want in books. Queer rep, including trans, non binary and ace. Disabled rep that impacts the daily life of the characters - we have a deaf person and sign language is frequently used. The main character is plus sized. We have a limited cast of characters in a secluded setting. There is a huge looming forest. And then, magic. Sadly, it felt like the elements were picked rather than included. It didn't feel natural to more, more like fullfulling a quote and planning which boxes to tick. Even the found family aspect of this didn't really seep through until the very end. I am sad about how bored I was by all this, and then we haven't even talked about the predictability of the plot. No recommendation. The arc was provided by the publisher.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    “‘Hey, what do you think of witch?’ I ask. Jane blinks rapidly at the sudden change of subject. ‘Claire said that the first girls Frank brought here called themselves witches until he convinced them it was bad. Maybe…maybe it’s been waiting for us for to reclaim it.’ Jane’s smile starts slow, then spreads across her entire face. ‘I love it.’” 3.5 stars. This was a tough read, but not really for the reasons I expected it to be. Derry lives in a farmhouse on the edge of a dark forest with her adopte “‘Hey, what do you think of witch?’ I ask. Jane blinks rapidly at the sudden change of subject. ‘Claire said that the first girls Frank brought here called themselves witches until he convinced them it was bad. Maybe…maybe it’s been waiting for us for to reclaim it.’ Jane’s smile starts slow, then spreads across her entire face. ‘I love it.’” 3.5 stars. This was a tough read, but not really for the reasons I expected it to be. Derry lives in a farmhouse on the edge of a dark forest with her adopted sisters. Abandoned by their parents, they are now taken care of by a man named Frank, who is doing his best to cultivate their magic, because Derry and her siblings are alchemists. Witches, though Frank doesn't like when they use that word. But something is luring her sisters away, and Derry begins to unearth truths about Frank and his intentions that make her believe that he is more dangerous than she ever thought. Can she get her sisters back? Can she save them from the forest - from the man who would call himself their father? This was a highly anticipated debut for me. I wanted some fat girl magic, some dark and sinister characters, a setting that made my skin crawl. And in theory, these are all here, but this is definitely more of a contemporary fantasy than horror. There were some horrific elements, but again, not in the sense of Wilder Girls or even Sawkill Girls. Spoilers ahead. What was the most horrific of all in this book was the grooming and the mindsets of Derry and her siblings. I hated Frank from his first appearance, and when someone makes you want to gouge their eyes out and feed them to them, it makes for a hard read. There's definitely something being said for found family in this book, for standing together in sisterhood, but I feel like I wasn't prepared for exactly what this book is, somehow. Yes, the girls (and Violet) are witches. Yes, they use their magic to protect and save each other, and yes, they band together against their oppressor. But again, this is like a contemporary book about a cult that just happens to have magic. I wish there was more of a focus on the magical elements. I liked Derry well enough, and the cast overall is well-done. So much representation is present here, including a deaf character - something that I don't see enough in the books I read. I liked the dynamics at play, and the magic seemed pretty cool, from the glimpses we got of it. But I guess there was just something here I didn't vibe with. It's a dark, dark book, with themes that just get darker as the book progresses. The big event in the past that's alluded to was pretty obvious from the get go, the parents' wherabouts also fairly easy to put together; nothing felt super surprising, but there was a satisfying element to the conclusion that I appreciated. This is a decent debut. Not my favourite of the year, but that is a personal taste thing more than anything.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Siofra

    OH, MY LORD! Thank you so much, Clarion Books, for this arc; I cannot tell you how much I appreciated this and how much I love this book! I received an ARC, but all my opinions are my own. Trigger Warning: guardian abuse, mental torture, emotional torture, kidnapping, child abandonment, child abuse, murder, control, pain and fear Something in the woods is calling... Derry and her siblings have magic, and in a world that hates them, the best place to be is with Frank on their isolated farm. The farm OH, MY LORD! Thank you so much, Clarion Books, for this arc; I cannot tell you how much I appreciated this and how much I love this book! I received an ARC, but all my opinions are my own. Trigger Warning: guardian abuse, mental torture, emotional torture, kidnapping, child abandonment, child abuse, murder, control, pain and fear Something in the woods is calling... Derry and her siblings have magic, and in a world that hates them, the best place to be is with Frank on their isolated farm. The farm lets them live and grow and seems like the perfect place on the surface, but with Frank being so overprotective, it doesn't feel like freedom- so they do what any child does, they find hidden ways to sneak out. All this comes to a head when her siblings start going missing, and doubt and darkness fills Derry's mind. Her missing siblings call her from the woods or something that sounds like them, and they say nothing is safe. This book! THIS BOOK! This book gave me the most uncomfortable, sinister, nerve-wracking bad guy, and I have never wanted more than to go into a book to save characters more than this one. I was on edge the whole book for this character and the supernatural darkness haunting this book. This book showed how you could have a supernatural story without the supernatural being be the worse thing to fear. That ending was VERY satisfying, even if it came with such a terrible heartbreak. I also loved this book for the huge representation; lgbtq+ (trans and nonbinary folks, the asexual and bisexual plus pansexual), the diversity between the siblings and the found family trope-which I am a sucker for!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Renata

    I was afraid this would be TOO SPOOPY but it's not really a horror story, more of a dark fantasy kind of thing (which is more my jam). I loved the forced-found family of the adopted magic siblings, and appreciated the intersectional diversity therein. (It's nice that it has a lot of LGBTQAI+ characters including multiple asexual characters, with no romantic plots just background identities. Not that it's not also great to have YA queer romances but, you know, variety is the spice of life.) Some a I was afraid this would be TOO SPOOPY but it's not really a horror story, more of a dark fantasy kind of thing (which is more my jam). I loved the forced-found family of the adopted magic siblings, and appreciated the intersectional diversity therein. (It's nice that it has a lot of LGBTQAI+ characters including multiple asexual characters, with no romantic plots just background identities. Not that it's not also great to have YA queer romances but, you know, variety is the spice of life.) Some aspects of the plot were a little predictable to a genre-savvy adult reader but a lot of teen fantasy readers will be thrilled to see themselves represented in a story like this.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Susana

    Thank you to the publisher for proving me with an early e-copy of this book via Edelweiss+. I CAN'T BELIEVE I'VE BEEN APPROVED FOR AN ARC OF THIS BOOK! I'M SO EXCITED ASDFGHJKL Thank you to the publisher for proving me with an early e-copy of this book via Edelweiss+. I CAN'T BELIEVE I'VE BEEN APPROVED FOR AN ARC OF THIS BOOK! I'M SO EXCITED ASDFGHJKL

  20. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    Derry has been living in a secluded house in the woods with her siblings and their protector, Frank, for years. They don't have luxuries like cosmetics or snack foods or even new books and DVDs. They're not spoiled at all. But they're taken care of. They're safe. Which Frank has told them is much more important in a world that fears their magic. It's the same reason he calls them alchemists instead of that more dangerous word: witches. White, fat, sixteen-year-old Derry and her siblings dislike Fr Derry has been living in a secluded house in the woods with her siblings and their protector, Frank, for years. They don't have luxuries like cosmetics or snack foods or even new books and DVDs. They're not spoiled at all. But they're taken care of. They're safe. Which Frank has told them is much more important in a world that fears their magic. It's the same reason he calls them alchemists instead of that more dangerous word: witches. White, fat, sixteen-year-old Derry and her siblings dislike Frank and fear him even as Frank reminds them that he took them in when no one--not even their parents--wanted them. Derry and her siblings--eldest Jane (who is Black); Winnie (who is fat and white); Brooke (fat, Deaf, Mexican-American); white twins Elle and Irene (Irene is trans); nonbinary, Mexican-American Violet; and the youngest identical Black twins Olivia and London--have fierce bonds between them. Which makes it so much worse when first Jane and then Winnie disappear. Frank says the girls must have died in the dense forest surrounding their home. But as Derry explores the forest she wonders if the disappearances might be tied to Frank himself. As she learns more about Frank and her own magical affinity for growing both real and imagined plants Derry will have to decide how far she is willing to go to keep her loved ones safe in A Dark and Starless Forest (2021) by Sarah Hollowell. Despite each sibling having distinct magical abilities, this element of the story is largely set dressing for the novel's plot which is a blend of horror and suspense sprinkled with hints about a dark moment in Derry's past that makes her reluctant to re-enter the forest in her search for Jane (and later Winnie). The novel is also notable for its focus on the bond between Derry and her siblings with a total absence of romance subplots. Derry's first-person narration amplifies the siblings' isolation with a palpable fear of Frank and his punishments, including the dreaded time out room whose horrors are honed to each sibling's worst nightmares (blaring lights and erratic, staticky noise for Derry). The restricted narrative works to amp up the tension but leaves many questions about how the siblings' magic works and, more importantly, the implications of said magic in the outside world. Hollowell is at pains to create an inclusive cast with some elements (Violet being nonbinary, Irene's trans identity, everyone's use of ASL--designated by single quotes around signed dialog--to communicate with Brooke) integrated into the narrative better than others. Derry's quest to find her missing siblings and save all of them from Frank drives the story but leaves little room for character development of the other siblings who are often absent from the action and remain little more than names and attributes. Derry's moral ambiguity is unresolved by the end of the novel as she embraces darker choices to save her siblings heedless of the consequences. Questions about world building and what will come next for all of the siblings are also up in the air. A Dark and Starless Forest is a dark, inclusive blend of horror and extremely light fantasy. Ideal for readers looking for a slightly supernatural tale of suspense. Possible Pairings: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke, Half Bad by Sally Green, The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O'Donoghue, Wilder Girls by Rory Power, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters *A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*

  21. 5 out of 5

    Optimisticbooknerd

    This was just ok for me, I've heard such raving reviews and I was drawn to the cover for plus size representation which we definitely got and I was so happy to see that in a YA Fantasy but the writing was kinda bland for me and i found it slow in some parts. it was an ok read, I'm excited to see what everyone thinks when it's released 3⭐ This was just ok for me, I've heard such raving reviews and I was drawn to the cover for plus size representation which we definitely got and I was so happy to see that in a YA Fantasy but the writing was kinda bland for me and i found it slow in some parts. it was an ok read, I'm excited to see what everyone thinks when it's released 3⭐

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nemo (The ☾Moonlight☾ Library)

    This review was originally posted on The Moonlight Library I received a copy of this book from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.I quite enjoyed A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell, who I followed on Twitter even before she announced her book deal. I was drawn to the concept of the creepy forest, and yes, to be honest I was also drawn to a book that dared to put a fat character front and centre, though I was pleased This review was originally posted on The Moonlight Library I received a copy of this book from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.I quite enjoyed A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell, who I followed on Twitter even before she announced her book deal. I was drawn to the concept of the creepy forest, and yes, to be honest I was also drawn to a book that dared to put a fat character front and centre, though I was pleased to see that the characters' physical attributes did not play a significant part of the plot and that she didn't hate her body or lose weight and all her problems were solved. She was just fat, and that was part of the book's diversity. I think my favourite part of this book besides the narrative voice, which was smooth and strong and engaging, was the sibling dynamics. It reminded me of one of my favourite YA fantasies of all time Entwined by Heather Dixon Wallwork, which is based on the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale. I wondered, due to the number of siblings and their tendency to slip away from their (over-)protector by travelling through a secret and magical tunnel to have their own introverted version of a party, if this book was at all inspired by the same fairy tale, but I think the similarities are just coincidences. Derry loves her siblings and has an individual relationship with each one, and boy am I ever a sucker for the found family trope, I just adore it. I love how Derry even acknowledged that it took years for the strangers living in the same house to actually become siblings, I just think that concept is so precious. The worldbuilding was really great a well. I felt like there were very strong rules around the magic system, even if there were some unanswered questions around other aspects of the world. The siblings weren't necessarily aware of how far their power could grow, since their guardian was an emotionally abusive asshole. Speaking of which, I really liked how Hollowell approached this, with Derry aware that was being manipulated, but still unable to break free for a large amount of the novel. it was really great character development, and it was easy to empathise with Derry and her feeling of being trapped in an unlocked room that she COULD walk out of... if she wasn't so dependent on this emotionally abusive asshole. And that's why I love YA, because Derry was still a teen, her emotional development and confidence was not at the level it would be as an adult. I feel like this story would not work so well if it was a book starring all adult characters, so I feel like not only does it fit into the YA space but it stands strongly as part of the YA canon. Yay! The only problem I had with this book was what I perceive to be a inconsistency that cropped up as part of the climax. It was to do with a characters' magic and the world building, so I'm going to put it into a spoiler: (view spoiler)[For the entire novel we were told Derry had to be touching the earth to summon her plants, and the plants grew from the earth., We saw this over and over, that her magic was definitely physically linked to the ground, the earth, the soil, and the plants that grew from it. She needed to be touching the soil to summon her plants. At the climax, Derry can suddenly push her hand through someone's chest (how?? she's not super strong!?), and summon plants from inside a person's body, and that just doesn't work for me because it is inconsistent with the entire rules of the magic system established all the way through the novel. She's never done it before, it's not part of her magic even with her training and growing, and the entire thing could have been rewritten so that instead of bursting from inside a person, her plants still attacked and forced their way inside. I just... it was inconsistent with what had been pretty solidly established. (hide spoiler)] Apart from that, I really enjoyed this book and I would love to read Hollowell's next one.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brittany Zimmerman

    this was INCREDIBLE! I absolutely loved it. Such a great read for fall. It gave me all the dark academia vibes. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC of this book. All opinions are my own. Holy wow! Sarah Hollowell absolutely knocked this out of the park! From the representation to the creepy feelings you get while reading that reach your toes to the imagery you see as you read- this book is surely one that you want to pick up! This is phenomenal! If you lover thriller/suspense/my this was INCREDIBLE! I absolutely loved it. Such a great read for fall. It gave me all the dark academia vibes. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC of this book. All opinions are my own. Holy wow! Sarah Hollowell absolutely knocked this out of the park! From the representation to the creepy feelings you get while reading that reach your toes to the imagery you see as you read- this book is surely one that you want to pick up! This is phenomenal! If you lover thriller/suspense/mystery, complex characters, incredible and well done representation, strong protagonists, and beautifully written books: PICK THIS UP! I absolutely fell in love with Derry and all her siblings. The plot was incredibly intriguing and kept you fully engaged. The prose was well done and kept you on the edge of your seat. The characters were complex, well written and often times the best part of the book. The way the story built and the mysterious circumstances of siblings going missing grew, so did my desire to continue reading. While I was intrigued from the beginning, the further you read the better the book got. I thoroughly enjoyed this. It was creepy, suspenseful, and totally enthralling!

  24. 5 out of 5

    afternoonsunjeans

    when her siblings go missing a girl must confront the dark thing in the foresT AND THE GROWING DARKNESS WITHIN HER AGJRFKDLKFLD there is a dark thing within a forest y'all as a loyal forest lover, eye am satisfied my childhood suspicions are now, finally, being confirmed when her siblings go missing a girl must confront the dark thing in the foresT AND THE GROWING DARKNESS WITHIN HER AGJRFKDLKFLD there is a dark thing within a forest y'all as a loyal forest lover, eye am satisfied my childhood suspicions are now, finally, being confirmed

  25. 4 out of 5

    ♛ Garima ♛

    Have you ever requested a book to read (ARC) or simply added a book to your TBR pile by just looking at the cover and read the blurb later on? Yep, I did that with this one.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Oakes

    When I first saw the cover of this book - sharply tanged like blood - I let out a happy shriek. To see a body that looks like this on the cover of a YA Fantasy no less, is a huge step forward for YA fantasy ever. Not only is the body on the cover taking up space - my god, just look at her arms - but it's big and proud and strong. It falls outside the lean, breastless nymph we usually see on YA fantasy covers and it's refreshing and soul-hugging and wonderful. And that's just the cover. The book i When I first saw the cover of this book - sharply tanged like blood - I let out a happy shriek. To see a body that looks like this on the cover of a YA Fantasy no less, is a huge step forward for YA fantasy ever. Not only is the body on the cover taking up space - my god, just look at her arms - but it's big and proud and strong. It falls outside the lean, breastless nymph we usually see on YA fantasy covers and it's refreshing and soul-hugging and wonderful. And that's just the cover. The book itself is a bottle-episode of a novel, a clever small story with huge stakes about chosen families (chosen by whom is another question), magic, nature and emotional abuse that keeps us hidden in a forest of our own for years. I don't want to say much more as this is a review that could be ripe with spoilers, but suffice to say I really liked this dark-hearted little book about a dark-hearted bigger person.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bethany Dickey

    I have had this e-arc sitting on my TBR for months and I am absolutely appalled that I did not read it earlier. Anyone who has ever heard me talk about books knows how much I love a spooky/magical forest and this has an excellent one. It also had an amazing sibling group, with tons of diverse rep that felt quite well done although I can't speak for any of it. The vibes of this book were just so sinister and I couldn't believe how fastly I flew through it. I was desperate to know if Frank really wa I have had this e-arc sitting on my TBR for months and I am absolutely appalled that I did not read it earlier. Anyone who has ever heard me talk about books knows how much I love a spooky/magical forest and this has an excellent one. It also had an amazing sibling group, with tons of diverse rep that felt quite well done although I can't speak for any of it. The vibes of this book were just so sinister and I couldn't believe how fastly I flew through it. I was desperate to know if Frank really was bad (not a spoiler) and what was going on with these magical girls. I can't wait to reread this and annotate!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bree Ogle

    A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell Length: 320 Pages Genres: YA Fantasy Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars A special thanks to NetGalley and HMH Books for Young Readers for an ARC of this book! Trigger Warnings for this book include Violence, Blood, Guns, Death, Mentions of Depression and Anxiety, and Abandonment "The magic we perform doesn't have words. It is felt. It is the roots beneath our feet. It is the string connecting our fates to each other and to the rest of the world. It is the life-givin A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell Length: 320 Pages Genres: YA Fantasy Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars A special thanks to NetGalley and HMH Books for Young Readers for an ARC of this book! Trigger Warnings for this book include Violence, Blood, Guns, Death, Mentions of Depression and Anxiety, and Abandonment "The magic we perform doesn't have words. It is felt. It is the roots beneath our feet. It is the string connecting our fates to each other and to the rest of the world. It is the life-giving water, it is the power in ourselves." There is one word to some up this book and it is...meh. The plot, characters, the writing, all of it was overwhelmingly okay when I was expecting WOW! My main draw to this book was that the protagonist is plus-sized and, being plus-size myself, I was so, so excited to see an explicitly plus-size/fat character get the spotlight, and to be something other than a skinny person's comic relief! Hollowell really delivered on that aspect -- Derry is fat and it has little to no impact on her plot and life which was a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately I couldn't get into A Dark and Starless Forest. It seemed interesting enough, with nine magical sisters living in a secluded house and being raised by the mysterious and cruel Frank, a pseudo-father figure with teeth. Derry's magic is related to nature, so she has the ability to grow flowers and vines and connect with the earth in a powerful and sometimes frightening way. The other sisters tended to run together for me, and with only a few little descriptions of their looks, personalities and powers thrown in once or twice I was left feeling a little lost. The catalyst for A Dark and Starless Forest comes when one sister after another starts to disappear and the girls start to question Frank's motives. Meanwhile, the forest surrounding the house starts to call to Derry in familiar voices. It's only when she ventures inside that she starts to discover the dark truth. I think this was a pretty run-of-the-mill YA fantasy. To be honest, I'm beginning to think YA and I just don't get along. I keep getting swept away by their shiny covers and amazing blurbs but 9 times out of ten I'm disappointed. If you'd be interested in a sort of girl-power X-Men retelling with a malevolent and powerless Professor X pulling the strings, then I think this would be the perfect book for you! I have no doubt there are many who'd enjoy this and I also recognize how amazing it is to have a kick-ass plus-size heroine front and center. Hopefully, Derry is the first in a long, long line. For more reviews visit my blog!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Amber

    A Dark and Starless Forest is a wonderfully creepy tale of witches, sisterhood and mystery. Derry has lived at the lake house with her 8 alchemist sisters, under the care of Frank, since her parents dropped her off when she was a child. On the surface, the lake house is a place for young witches to master their skills and stay safe from the outside world who may hope to harm them. However, when Derry’s sisters begin to disappear one by one, the nearby forest calls to her and she knows that she mus A Dark and Starless Forest is a wonderfully creepy tale of witches, sisterhood and mystery. Derry has lived at the lake house with her 8 alchemist sisters, under the care of Frank, since her parents dropped her off when she was a child. On the surface, the lake house is a place for young witches to master their skills and stay safe from the outside world who may hope to harm them. However, when Derry’s sisters begin to disappear one by one, the nearby forest calls to her and she knows that she must venture into its forbidden depths to discover the truth and hopefully save her sisters. I really enjoyed this book! It was a really great combination of YA fantasy and YA thriller and I was totally intrigued throughout. In some places it felt on the slightly younger side of YA for me personally but it was a joy to read. I loved all the strong characters, the mystery and the magic! I loved that all the sisters had totally different magical skills and learning about all of those. I want Derry’s flower magic myself because I can’t seem to even keep a cactus alive! All in all an exciting, quick read for fans of House of Hollow. Many thanks to Netgalley and Clarion Books for my copy in exchange for review. 💗 A Dark and Starless Forest is available now.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I received this book via Clarion Books (on NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review. I loved this story so much! It kept me glued to the pages every time I read! It really was an interesting story and kept my interest from start to finish. It was creepy, mysterious, and tense especially near the end. The story started off slow with a creepy feeling, but then rolled into a wild ending with Frank. The story definitely gets dark at times and graphic, but this didn’t bother me. It was gruesome, I received this book via Clarion Books (on NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review. I loved this story so much! It kept me glued to the pages every time I read! It really was an interesting story and kept my interest from start to finish. It was creepy, mysterious, and tense especially near the end. The story started off slow with a creepy feeling, but then rolled into a wild ending with Frank. The story definitely gets dark at times and graphic, but this didn’t bother me. It was gruesome, but it added to this story. It showed the lengths Frank would go to get what he wanted. Also, the idea of the forest and how it was reborn because of Derry is an interesting plot line. The characters were good, especially Derry. I really enjoyed her character a lot. I liked how her character developed as the story progressed. She become more and more confident in herself and how she can protect her siblings. This was a good original creepy and dark story with a little bit of magic! I definitely recommend it.

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