Author: Katherine Roberts
I feel cheated by the back cover.
Nowhere did the description indicate the first half of this book reads more like a slasher horror film. Natalie has an encounter with a strange man who takes far too much interest in her, who later comes back with a group of people, physically overpowers her, drugs her, kidnaps her, and locks her up in his home in the wilderness where no one can find them. And then proceeds to subject her to not only casual brutality but things that are supposed to be torturous to her (and magically aren’t because he made a miscalculation).
So, right away I’m wondering who the target audience is supposed to be. The cover shows a girl with a tree and something magic, a dog/wolf, and a unicorn. This doesn’t exactly feel like the kind of book I was reading. How about a dark forest, an empty chair, and a set of shackles? The first half would take a very mature reader in the estimated age range. There are, indeed, unicorns. They stab people. Natalie gets to watch firsthand someone getting gored. (And then he doesn’t even die properly until later, because ZOMBIES . . . what were we reading again?)
The second thing that bothered me incredibly about this book was its depiction of alcoholism. Natalie’s dad is alcoholic to the tune of 78 bottles of beer a week (sometimes more), yet when Natalie vanishes, he stops drinking? When the whole reason he’s drinking in the first place is because he can’t deal with the loss of her mother? Not to mention the fact that he not only has the magical ability to overcome the chemical addiction to alcohol his body has sustained, he also has the magical ability to overcome its complete withdrawal with no side effects whatsoever. I have been around alcoholics going off less severe addictions than that. Some of them shake, many of them smoke or drown themselves with coffee, and when confronted with any sort of hardship it’s all they can do (and often more than they can do) not to go back to the bottle.
Compounding the incredulity is the way her father acts while drunk. Although Natalie, her stepmom, and even her stepbrother are afraid of him, he actually restrains himself from hitting them—while drunk—because someone is watching. And although they’re supposedly afraid of him, he only has to be off the bottle for a few days before they’re relieved he’s quit and acting normally around him again. Natalie herself is ludicrously brave around Hawk, considering he does a thousand times more than her father is shown to do and yet she’s supposed to be too afraid to even backtalk her father. Merlin, actually, is a much better picture of that kind of relationship. He’s timid, won’t disobey his father despite his father’s abuse, and struggles with worthlessness (not something Natalie finds hard, which is odd because no one seems to care that much about her except Jo).
And then there’s the really disturbing fact that Natalie’s mother has, from her spirit state, used magic to nudge Natalie’s stepmom into marrying her father, despite the fact that her father was already a drunkard. As though the marriage would fix him (hint: it doesn’t…. at least that much was right). Nor does Natalie’s mom show any sign of regretting turning someone else’s life into hell.
From the second half onwards (after Natalie’s escape from the cabin) it does try to read more like a fantasy adventure, but the good guys are even more frustrating than the bad guys. They torture people, too, and lock people in little rooms, only we’re supposed to be okay with them overall because they’re living in the magical land and they just really want what’s best for the trees. To be fair, Natalie is no fan of their methods, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s nothing to admire about either side.
The end gets ridiculous again and goes back to the horror-slasher-fic vibe from the beginning. Natalie is forced to watch her wolf/dog being eaten alive by a hawk to complete the obscene ritual she neatly escaped in the beginning (no mention is made of how much of a giant dog this hawk was supposed to ingest to effect the spell…. this is just handwaved away). Hawk, who was already fooled once by her fake subservience which allowed her escape, somehow blindly believes her the second time when she pulls the exact same trick. Then Natalie gets splashed with a poison so toxic it’s giving her immediate symptoms, but it only takes a week to recover once she finally gets to a hospital, and there is no lasting ill effect.
So… there’s really no reason I would ever tell someone to read this book. The plot holes are gaping and the overall tone is quite frustrating. I rate this book Not Recommended.