cover image After the Forest

After the Forest

Kell Woods. Tor, $28.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-85248-9

Woods builds her bewitching historical fantasy debut out of folklore and fairy tale but grounds it in childhood trauma and awakening love. Twenty years after Greta and her no-goodnik brother, Hans, first became lost in the Black Forest, stumbled on a witch’s house, and played out the familiar tale, they now live in the cottage themselves, eking out a living in the harrowing aftermath of the Thirty Years’ War. Greta supports them both by baking and selling irresistible gingerbread from a recipe she found in an old grimoire, a witch’s handbook. In part because of the deliciousness of this treat, rumors grow around town that Greta herself is a witch. If these suspicious whispers get too loud, she’ll face a fiery death. Each chapter opens with a clever retelling of part of “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” eventually linking that fairy tale with Greta’s own neo-Grimm journey toward both emotional and magical maturity as, despite her initial distaste for witchcraft, she comes into her own and learns to wield her nascent powers to help the people she loves. The romantic subplot is similarly well-wrought and fantastical: Greta’s lover Matthias, a stranger from the Tyrol, is a prince-charming-in-disguise. All of Woods’s characters are drawn with exceptional sensitivity, and Greta’s well-crafted struggle to thrive despite early suffering and ongoing societal prejudice resonates. Woods is a powerful new voice in speculative fiction. (Oct.)