cover image A Dark and Starless Forest

A Dark and Starless Forest

Sarah Hollowell. Clarion, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-358-42441-3

Flower magic and eerie disappearances mask the characters’ struggles with sadistic child abuse and secrets in Hollowell’s unevenly paced horror debut. Alchemist Derry, 16, and her eight foster siblings were all abandoned to controlling guardian Frank because of the magic each can do. But their austere life of constant surveillance, training, and overprotection in Frank’s Indiana lake house fragments after Derry, who is fat and white, and Jane, who is neurodiverse and Black, witness something unspeakable in the forbidden, shadow-haunted forest—and Jane vanishes. Haunted by Jane’s pleading voice, Derry forms a tenuous alliance with a shadowy girl in the woods who teaches her to unleash her power. But when more of her siblings disappear, Derry must help liberate them all from a terrible fate. Despite an intersectionally inclusive cast and solid prose, the plot bogs down in overexplained conflict and brutal, abrupt escalations into torture, gaslighting, and violence. Seasoned revenge horror readers, however, may enjoy this macabre showdown. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)