Book Review: A Dark and Starless Forest

S. E. Wigget
2 min readJan 7, 2024

Hollowell, Sarah. A Dark and Starless Forest. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston: 2023.

Front cover of A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell

TW: child abuse, abandonment, gaslighting, manipulation, Stockholm Syndrome, torture, death, murder, gun violence, self-entitled arrogant white male, power-tripping control freak psychopath who needs to be chopped up into bloody little bits

I decided to read a lot of queer fiction this year. Goals.

This is a very dark fantasy novel — I’m tempted to say it’s actually a horror novel. The only thing that differentiates dark fantasy from horror is… world building. That said, it’s dark fantasy because the author made up types of magic. (The flower/plant magic in particular is brilliant.)

I cannot express enough my appreciation for the queer rep (including ace), fat girl rep, and disability rep in this book. Love it.

SPOILERS:

I figured out early in the book that their… so-called guardian, Frank is a manipulative control freak. Early in the book, I thought he might be a narcissist with BPD, but eventually he proves to be a psychopath.

Stockholm Syndrome also comes to mind — each girl has some level of it. Elle is a flying monkey with the greatest level of Stockholm Syndrome.

“Timeout” kept having sinister overtones that raised red flags, even before the reader see what it means. I kept suspecting it wasn’t merely sitting quietly in a corner. Sure enough, it’s torture.

This book evokes the self-entitlement of power-tripping men who use the talents of women and get credit for them… and who abuse the women in their lives. That reminds me of the history books Women of Ideas by Dale Spender and Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang by Kirsty Stonell Walker. Abusers, predators, who not only oppress and stunt women’s talent but also take credit for it. The villain also reminded me of Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess.

Actually, Dr. Sam is evil, too, and apparently he doesn’t get consequences.

So… this is definitely a high stakes kind of dark fantasy novel. Very dark. Starting a bit before page 300, there’s an infuriating and horrifying scene I found difficult to get through. I ended up skimming forward. Might want to read the sequel to the…

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S. E. Wigget

Outside Medium, I mostly write fiction, especially paranormal and historical fantasy, under either S. E. Wigget or Susan E. Wigget. WhimsicalWords.Substack.com