Dare you enter the Shadow Forest…

As well as full moons, hidden caves and Oreos, Moontrug also likes forests (good for building treehouses in), Norwegians (she swims in the Norwegian fjords every summer) and pixies (they rock). And so when she opened up Matt Haig’s 8-12s children’s book, Shadow Forest, and discovered that it contains all of those things and more (think Snow Witches, Huldres and Tomtegubbs), she knew she’d struck upon something good.


Following the death of their parents (in a most unusual series of events), Samuel Blink and his sister, Martha, must leave England to live in Norway – with an aunt they barely know, in a remote village beside a large, dark forest. Forced to eat smelly, brown cheese and banned from entering the forest, Martha stops speaking altogether and Samuel is bored and miserable. But when Martha runs off into the forbidden forest and is captured by hideous huldres, Samuel must delve inside and bring her back…


Matt Haig’s narrative voice is perfectly poised between dark humour and magical adventure. For example, shortly after Martha and Samuel lose their parents, Haig talks of their other relatives’ unfortunate demises: ‘Granddad had a heart attack carrying a box of ornamental gnomes into his back garden… Nan, two months later, tripped over one of the gnomes and fell head-first into the greenhouse.’ And then, just pages later, Samuel is whisked away from gnomes and greenhouses to the magical depths of the Shadow Forest: ‘[Samuel] stood still for a moment, looking at the rough trunks of the pine trees… They stood like awesome gateposts to the shadowy and unknown land beyond. He thought he heard something, a strange and distant calling that didn’t seem to belong to the world he knew.’


The Shadow Forest is full of magical beasts – of sun-fearing creatures who invent a language called ‘Okokkbjdkzokk’ and angelic-looking Truth Pixies who cannot lie: ‘It would have been very hard to imagine that such a face could belong to a murderer, but murderers come in very many shapes and sizes. As Samuel was about to find out’. It’s a feast for the imagination and all the time ideas and characters are underpinned by amusing and often ‘rude interruptions from the author.’ The villain of the story, The Changemaker, is delightfully complex, both terrifying and pitiful, and readers will love the way his past is gradually revealed. And set alongside the hilarity of creatures like the Truth Pixie (‘All that was good has been lost… Oh, it is terrible. I am terrible. How I would love to see your head explode’) you have the quiet power of individuals like the Snow Witch: ‘The words she uttered seemed to chill the prison because they told the deepest secrets of the forest’.


From the absurd to the sublime (Moontrug LOVED how the Snow Witch flaked the moon), Shadow Forest is an entertaining and magical adventure, perfect for children hungry for a mystical plot told by a tongue-in-cheek author. Small wonder it was hailed winner of the Gold Smarties Prize and the Blue Peter Book Award, and shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal…