What a Wicked Game You Played AKA a review of The Girl Who Hid In The Trees by Steve Stred
Big thank you to Steve Stred for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review!
The Girl Who Hid In The Trees is centered around an urban legend and a young boy coming of age while discovering first love and working through grief.
Jason lost his brother after he went into McConnells's Forest with a group of friends to debunk the local urban legend and never returned. Now Jason and his friends want to go into the forest to find the truth about what happened.
This novella was a quick and enjoyable read that took time to really introduce us to it's main character, which ended up providing a really wonderful snapshot of youth in all it's awkwardness, joy, and fear. Jason and his friends are young teens that actually feel like young teens, sometimes feeling very mature, but ultimately still goofy kids.
Once the horror starts it comes at you hard and fast, and felt like it was over quickly, however, I have noticed I seem to really really like my horror character's suffering to be long and drawn out, so I'm chalking that one up to personal preference rather than any fault of the book. One thing I absolutely can't argue is that while it felt short, the climax was creepy as hell and full of top notch disturbing imagery. Like it was all out nightmare fuel that is probably seared into my brain forever now, which is exactly what I want from my horror stories. As if that wasn't enough, I thought the ending was absolutely perfect! It fits perfectly within the urban legend theme, it wasn't a happy ending nor an unhappy one, but a bit of both depending on how you look at it, making it tonally perfect and one I won't forget.
This was my first read from Stred (though I have since read his collection of short stories, Left Hand Path) and he is an author I'll be watching closely. He combines horrific imagery with bleak sensibilities without suffocating you, and has a tremendous (and successful) focus on growing and improving as a writer that makes me particularly excited to see what he has in store next.