Author: Joanna Ruth Meyer
Audiobook Length: 12 hours 4 minutes
A dual-perspective, gender-swapped, YA fantasy in the vein of “Beauty and the Beast“.
In the story, an astronomer’s son is lured into a dangerously magical wood, and finds himself falling for Seren, the tree-siren daughter of the witch who rules the forest. But the stars hold a dangerous curse, and Seren’s quest to become human will lead the couple into an ancient war raging between the witch and the king.
I have been recommended both this author and this novel for quite some times, even before this book was published, so it is about time that I experienced Into the Heartless Wood. This book was a delight as it was a fantastic re-telling that used elements of the known tale of Beauty and the Beast and makes it a completely original story. This time the “beauty” is an astronomer’s son and the “beast” is a tree-siren who has grown up to believe she is a monster.
Owen Merrick is the caregiver for his two-year-old sister while his father works. He is very close with his father and it is incredibly heart-warming how much they each care for the other. His father is an astronomer and Owen is an astronomy apprentice, although he is incredibly skilled like his father. I loved how the stars play a huge role in this story with both magic and science. His family lives near the dangerous woods, but Owen makes it his job to keep his family safe, considering this same wood took the life of his mother. He is a fairly self-less character when it comes to his family and he will do anything to protect them.
Owen enters the woods after his sister gets lost. It is here that he meets the tree sirens. By a stroke of luck, one of the tree sirens decides to spare his sister. The tree-sirens are not given names, so Owen gives her the name Seren. She is drawn to Owen, like with many tales of isolated characters, as he is different than the others she has previously come across. She is the youngest daughter and sees the destruction of those around her and decides that maybe that is not the only way. Owen and her have an emotional journey where it is not the typical love story as the obstacles that they face would create barriers for any potential couple. They go through a lot with the two worlds that they come from and they have to work to even think about where the other is coming from every time a new complication appears.
This novel is both heart-breaking and heart-warming as it does run the reader through many emotions, especially once you get closer to the end (a little over half-way is where there is a lot of elements that give the reader all the feels at one point or another). As I did the audiobook, both narrators voice the story very well with the right emotions and tones that fit the story and the characters. I loved how the voices especially fit Seren and her different circumstances. The author did a fantastic job of creating a beautiful setting as a reader can easily picture every scene in perfect detail. The pacing of the story starts stronger with the prologue. It slows down a bit in the beginning and a little more in the middle, but overall, it went at a fairly decent pace.
Seren and Owen each had their own journey with a lot of intertwining paths. I liked how the characters stayed true to themselves and they each made decisions that fit their initial descriptions. Owen sometimes acted without thinking as his goal was just to save everyone around him, while Seren would be more methodical and take a little more time before jumping in. The two of them do interact several times throughout the story and their relationship progresses naturally as they become closer. However, they also have their separate portions and I liked that the two of them did not have to be together the entire time as the reader could care about each of them separately and not as a central unit.
Overall, I did not go into this story with super high expectations as I thought it would be more of a straight retelling with a gender bend. I was definitely pleasantly surprised as it was a very interesting dark tale with elements of the original tale. There were times where the writing featured more verse/prose style. This was used more for Seren’s portions, but it was not consistently used, so it was difficult to find the meaning for its use. I could have missed it though as I did the audio, so maybe it was only something that is apparent in print. It takes a bit to get fully immersed into the story, but once you are there, you are captivated until the end. The story does do some telling rather than showing for some pieces of the story, but I found that it did not bother me as much as I thought it would. Although I loved Owen, Seren shined as a character, where you want to root for her to have every happiness in the world. A great fantasy novel featuring two lovable main characters and multiple delightful love them or hate them side characters that will leave you feeling satisfied!