Today’s post is a review of an ARC copy of From Within the Woods by T. Inman I received from Booksirens. (The review is voluntary and the opinions are my own.)
Table of Contents
FAN OF MYTHOLOGY
Everybody who knows me knows that I’m a big fan of mythology. I made a giant board of Greek mythology from Chaos onward, using different sources like Ovid and other classic writers or the Internet. Greek mythology is also the most referenced one. But the one I feel the closest to is Slavic mythology.
I’m Slavic, and while Greek mythology is associated with power, intrigues, and heroism, Slavic mythology is a hearth, a warm bread on the table, and a kitchen full of herbs. It’s very matriarchal, although the society in which it developed wasn’t. I associate it with a grandma, who keeps her family together, is wise and kind, and ultimately – it’s home.
For those reasons, I am very drawn to the literature that has Slavic folklore representation. I’m a big fan of Naomi Novik and Katherine Arden‘s work. (If anyone knows any other books with Slavic folklore in them, let me know :D)
FROM WITHIN THE WOODS
I have high expectations of the vibe I want the Slavic folklore books to have. That’s why I expected so much of this book. From Within the Woods caught my attention with the gorgeous cover (Deluxe Edition), the familiar white-clothes-red embroidery, and the brilliant synopsis. The map, the chapter names, and the first sentence sealed the deal.
The crisp evening wind bristled along Elena’s bare arms as men from the village of Innorin marched her over the threshold of the forest.From Within the Woods
The woods do not scare Elena—even if they did have a reputation for being cursed.
At least, that was the bravery she had when her father was still alive. Now, accused of being a witch by the village that she once held dear, Elena realizes that going into the woods clouded with superstition may be her only chance at survival.
However, once she steps foot past the threshold of the forest, she wonders if perhaps her village had been right about the dangers that lurk within. With what has been taken from her, she is left to hope that her promise to be brave is enough to help her survive.
As clouds darkened the sky and prepared to cleanse the earth with rain, Dmitri could feel something different about the forest. He felt the subtle shift in the trees – a sense of urgency that he had never felt before. He could feel it inside of his chest, like a bird stirring against his ribcage.
Helplessly drawn to the source, Dmitri found himself moving as if it had called to him. All he knew was that, as soon as he crossed paths with whatever it was, his life would never be the same.
Second Edition Book with Bonus content including an alternate cover, a map, and three bonus short stories!
ON FROM WITHIN THE WOODS
Soon after I started reading, though, I started making notes on the issues I found in the book. It pains me to say this because the book had so much potential, and the general idea was brilliant, but it felt like I was reading the first draft that hadn’t yet gone through the editing.
I cringed at the dialogue. Sometimes I could easily forget who was talking to who because all the characters had the same voice. Most of the conversation felt repetitive, with MCs giving each other pep talks. Also, the dialogue was too careful. I understand that the author wanted to bring in a thoughtful character, consent, and safety, but with this poor execution, it felt whiny and non-convincing.
Speaking of, all of the characters were predictable. From page one, you know without mystery who’s who on the scale of good and evil. And with such a shallow characterization, how can we believe in the corruption or doubt the intentions of the character who’s supposed to be tipping between the two sides?
The magic system and the world-building were undeveloped. All we have is a forest and a cottage, which is a cheap way to build the Slavic folklore-inspired story if you’re not going to introduce anything else. The Slavic folklore world is a rich well of inspiration from which you can pull a stable and magical base for your story-building. From Within the Woods really disappointed me in that.
The magic system was a whole mess, too general, and not in the spirit of Slavic folklore tradition. (It doesn’t have to be or follow any rules, but it can use the tools of imagination and the templates available in folklore to create the right vibe. That didn’t happen here.) Honestly, it would’ve been better if we dropped the whole magic and witchcraft in the book and forgot about it.
One more thing – witchcraft and magic are two different things for me, and as part of Slavic mythology, they needed to be explored differently. One does not exclude the other, but they are not the same.
The plot line is weak, and apart from the very beginning of the book and a little bit at the end, there’s not much going on. The whole book is dragged and could’ve been a short story. Of Slavic folklore elements, we see three sprinkles, and even those were bad.
There’s no need to explain in the story what a rusalka is. You can put that at the end of the book, do a glossary or footnote. People can also Google it. Either way, the water nymph was mentioned solely for the purpose of mentioning something Slavic, and she doesn’t even appear in the story. There’s a character called Medved – and he’s a bear! A bear named Bear? I need to see more creativity.
Throughout From Within the Woods, I couldn’t figure out the time or the space. I get that it’s a fictitious time and doesn’t need to align with the real periodization, but in this book, it was too vast and general. Weirdly, some of the dialogue felt like it was coming from the mouth of an American character.
There are other nuances that bothered me, but I said enough, so I’ll stop here. I am so sad this book was this bad. I was hoping it would be one of my favorites.
Are you a fan of Slavic mythology? What books inspired by it did you read and would you recommend any to me? Let me know in the comments!