Cover Image: A Dark and Starless Forest

A Dark and Starless Forest

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Member Reviews

So, so good! A Dark and Starless Forest is full of queerness, found family, fat rep, themes of abuse and finding your power, beauty and horror. So many good words! I love Derry and her siblings so much!
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Let me start by saying that this book is perfect for people who loved House of Hollow! It gave me very similar vibes but with a little more magic.
A Dark and Starless Forest follows Derry who lives with her eight siblings and Frank who adopted each of the siblings when they were abandoned by their parents. Each of the siblings has their own magical power which they have to hide from the outside world by staying cooped up in their house next to an eerie forest. But, when her siblings start going missing, Derry has to use her powers and confront the forest to find out what's happening to her family. 
This book really hooked me straight away - it was really atmospheric and tense which loved! There's plenty of mystery and supernatural stuff to keep you intrigued throughout.
The diversity in the cast of characters was spectacular. Derry herself is fat; there are several siblings who are queer, including a non-binary pansexual Mexican-American character and a trans girl; some of the siblings are black; one of them is deaf. There's also mental illness rep such as anxiety, ADHD and depression.
This is the perfect story for people who like the found family trope and aren't so big on romance.
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This one just wasn't for me. First of all, it was in present tense which is a big strike against it. Secondly, while I applaud diversity, the agenda came thick and fast, distracting from actual storytelling.

The first chapter was bogged down with 'telling' and all over the place which made it difficult to connect with the character. It's no use 'telling' me a character is "trans" without having them do something to 'show' me how that affects them in context of the story (or black, or fat, or whatever comes next on the diversity checklist).

The concept was good, especially about found family and having a plus size protagonist makes a nice change, but when the obvious agenda outweighs the story development, it just doesn't make for good reading.
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I really enjoyed this one! It was such a refreshing change to read a book where the main character is explicitly and unapologetically plus sized. The diverse cast of character was so wonderful and added so much to the story and to the sisterly/sibling bond they all shared! The plot was so eerie, and I loved how the storyline progressed! Seeing Derry come into her own power was especially satisfying and made for a wonderful ending!
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I think this a intersting book, the main charachter is a curvy girl with who I can relate with and this is a really important part for me. 

There isn't much fantasy, but the writing is flawless and immersive, so i enjoyed it a lot!
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"Something twists in my gut and tells me to ask her. Just ask her. It's probably nothing, but what if it's not?
I don't ask her. I water the peppers and when Jane keeps looking back to the forest, I keep not asking."

The alchemists - Jane, Derry, London, Winnie, Brooke, Irene, Violet, Olivia, and Elle - all came to Frank's house, from various parts of the country, when their magic manifested. Their powers are unique, but Frank trains them all to increase their power. He has no power himself, but he does have authority over them. It is never clear how Frank will react to anything the alchemists do, and if he feels someone is being disobedient, they may find themselves in the time out room, set up specifically to be punishing for that person. But Frank is here to protect them from the outside world, where magic is hated. 

Jane and Derry have a secret. Something happened recently in the forest - but they're not talking about it. Partly because no one in the house aside from Frank is allowed in the forest. But Derry can tell that Jane is still thinking about it, as her gaze is constantly drawn towards the forest. And then Derry wakes up in the night and finds that Jane is gone. This has never happened before. Frank has sometimes left the house on trips, but none of the siblings have ever disappeared.

Derry secretly returns to the forest, hoping for some sign of Jane. Derry thinks she sees her sister, and is sure she hears her voice, but she can't be found. Instead, Derry is surprised by a strange girl. Everything about her seems wrong - her voice lags behind the movement of her mouth, she doesn't move naturally, and then she vanishes in front of Derry's eyes. And yet, Derry feels drawn back to the forest night after night. Something is calling her and her magic feels different here - stronger, not just because her power is over nature, and free. Oh, and of course, she's here to find Jane.

I found this a pretty enjoyable light fantasy. Nothing too surprising plotwise. Lots of diversity in characters - race, gender, orientation, body type, hearing ability, and mental illness. With all the siblings in this house, I can't remember much about many of them. Our protagonist Derry, is fat, queer, and has anxiety. I was glad to read a story with no romance plots (I mean, they are isolated in a house surrounded by only lake and trees). Some folks are calling this horror, and I don't know that I'd agree with that. Some suspense or mystery for sure. 

I could see this appealing to folks who enjoyed Teeth in the Mist or The Lost Coast.

Thank you to Clarion Books and NetGalley for the eARC. A Dark and Starless Forest was published this September.
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3,5 stars

I was expecting a bit more fantasy, less trauma and abuse, but man was that well written! I was astonished by the incredible way this story captured our main character's conflicting thoughts and feelings. Loved it. I also loved the fat rep. It was unapologetical. As it should be.

But my, there was waaaaay more gore than I expected. Jeez. This was hardcore for a bunch of teens under the age of sixteen.

Why this book wasn't totally IT for me: I'm more of a high fantasy kind of girl. And while I don't mind urban fantasy, I feel like this book wasn't marketed correctly. Did that make it any less good? No, but I just know that it's not necessarily my thing. So, yeah. Wasn't an enormous fan of the story, but it was well written and I would pick up any forthcoming books by this author.
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I really enjoyed this novel. Derry is a self proclaimed fat, bespectacled girl with dirty bare feet.. She has always been drawn to the forest. As the twists begin, she must decide to give into the darkness within her or come completely undone. This novel centers on a 
Sisterhood of 7 witches living in a shared living space. They each arrived there when their magic became too much for their parents to handle. I Loved the female friendships and how well each of them nurtured and cared one another. They learned to lean on and trust each other, I appreciate the growth the characters experienced throughout. This book is LGBTQ+ friendly and I can appreciate the proper use of pronouns to identify each character.

I was granted an eARC of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
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When I saw that cover, I was like “yes! Curvy girl MC!” So I was kinda going in the book with high hopes. I did enjoy the foster system aspect (we don’t see this a lot in novels.) the magic system was easy to understand. Would at some point read more about the siblings!
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I loved this easy to read, adventurous and mysterious YA dark fantasy. We follow Derry and her seven siblings. She has been adopted by Frank who takes in abandon witches and helps them hone their powers. But suddenly the siblings start to go missing one by one.

If you are looking for a good entry point into fantasy I think this is a great book to do start with. The basics of each character and their powers are plainly laid out and there isn't any big world building to grapple with. The chapters are short and fast paced for the most part.

Of course the part I loved most of this read was the representation. Derry as a fat teen is not grappling with her size but has accepted it and it is just who she is. There is no trauma or bullying to over come, she is just a fat character existing in this world which I loved! There are also characters with disabilities, a nonbinary character, queer, Mexican, mixed-race and black characters.

I only had issues with the pace and it felt like a debut novel at most points during my read. There was too many characters to give any fully fleshed out story arcs. There is definitely opportunity to make this into a series. Around the 60% mark the book really picked up and from then on I was on the edge of my seat.

Overall I highly recommend this diverse read that has some great magical and spooky elements!!

Thanks to Netgalley and HMH Young Readers for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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This book was truly delightful to experience. Amazing found family vibes, unique and diverse forms of magic, mysterious and creepy plot, and pacing that will have readers flipping pages as fast as possible.

The story is much darker than I expected, but Hollowell balances it out with beautiful found family moments so the book never ends up feeling too heavy. Things get super dark, the danger feels real, but the things worth fighting for always remain the forefront of the story, which I appreciate.

Hollowell is definitely an author to watch. There are so many things to applaud about her debut, including the broad diversity of her cast. The main cast includes characters of many different races, sexualities, gender identities. There are characters who are deaf, characters who are fat, and characters dealing with many different aspects of mental health. There’s something for everyone and aside from the beginning of the book where all the characters and their traits are listed, it never comes across as anything other than a naturally occurring microcosm of individuals.
It was especially cool to see sign language featured so prominently in the story, as I feel we don’t often encounter that. I personally found great joy reading a book where the fat girl was the fully capable hero, rather than a nerdy sidekick or someone to mock.

Another great quality of this book is the intricate plotting. This story isn’t afraid to go places, unraveling a ton of additional mysteries along the way. I constantly found myself questioning the things happening, trying to map out what was connected and to anticipate what was coming next. It was all great fun. Just as soon as I thought I’d figured something out and hit a comfortable stride in the story, something exciting would happen to shake things up and drag more questions to the surface. It was a wild ride that was always difficult to put down.

I also really enjoyed the magic system in this book. Hollowell leaves a lot to our imaginations (which is fine) but I liked how each character had their own individual, seemingly random set of abilities to nurture. No ones magic was even remotely similar and some were inherently stronger than others, but that was always framed as being perfectly okay. I loved how natural and fluid it all seemed. I always really enjoy forms of green magic, so following Derry’s growth was especially enjoyable to me.

Overall, a super strong debut from an author I’m sure to check out again in the future. Great characters, exciting plot, a quick and twisty ride. Would definitely recommend without reservation.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Clarion Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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I appreciate this book and what it wanted to do, but I just didn't vibe with it. I would still recommend this book to friends but I'm not the biggest fan.
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A Dark and Starless Forest is a is a wonderful and incredibly rich fantasy novel, so well built and fast paced that I wasn't able to put it down till I reached the end. I was absolutely captivated by the atmosphere, and the characters.

This novel submerges the reader in a landscape so imaginative and detailed that the information of the world building/plot never feels forced, and is never difficult to understand or picture in one's mind. I had an enjoyable time reading this and it held my attention the entire way through that I finished it within the day! I enjoyed every page and thought that the plot/story was very unique. Would recommend to anyone!
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I quite enjoyed A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell, who I followed on Twitter even before she announced her book deal. I was drawn to the concept of the creepy forest, and yes, to be honest I was also drawn to a book that dared to put a fat character front and centre, though I was pleased to see that the characters' physical attributes did not play a significant part of the plot and that she didn't hate her body or lose weight and all her problems were solved. She was just fat, and that was part of the book's diversity.

I think my favourite part of this book besides the narrative voice, which was smooth and strong and engaging, was the sibling dynamics. It reminded me of one of my favourite YA fantasies of all time Entwined by Heather Dixon Wallwork, which is based on the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale. I wondered, due to the number of siblings and their tendency to slip away from their (over-)protector by travelling through a secret and magical tunnel to have their own introverted version of a party, if this book was at all inspired by the same fairy tale, but I think the similarities are just coincidences. Derry loves her siblings and has an individual relationship with each one, and boy am I ever a sucker for the found family trope, I just adore it. I love how Derry even acknowledged that it took years for the strangers living in the same house to actually become siblings, I just think that concept is so precious.

The worldbuilding was really great a well. I felt like there were very strong rules around the magic system, even if there were some unanswered questions around other aspects of the world. The siblings weren't necessarily aware of how far their power could grow, since their guardian was an emotionally abusive asshole. Speaking of which, I really liked how Hollowell approached this, with Derry aware that was being manipulated, but still unable to break free for a large amount of the novel. it was really great character development, and it was easy to empathise with Derry and her feeling of being trapped in an unlocked room that she COULD walk out of... if she wasn't so dependent on this emotionally abusive asshole.

And that's why I love YA, because Derry was still a teen, her emotional development and confidence was not at the level it would be as an adult. I feel like this story would not work so well if it was a book starring all adult characters, so I feel like not only does it fit into the YA space but it stands strongly as part of the YA canon. Yay!

The only problem I had with this book was what I perceive to be a inconsistency that cropped up as part of the climax. It was to do with a characters' magic and the world building, so I'm going to put it into a spoiler: <spoiler>For the entire novel we were told Derry had to be touching the earth to summon her plants, and the plants grew from the earth., We saw this over and over, that her magic was definitely physically linked to the ground, the earth, the soil, and the plants that grew from it. She needed to be touching the soil to summon her plants. At the climax, Derry can suddenly push her hand through someone's chest (how?? she's not super strong!?), and summon plants from inside a person's body, and that just doesn't work for me because it is inconsistent with the entire rules of the magic system established all the way through the novel. She's never done it before, it's not part of her magic even with her training and growing, and the entire thing could have been rewritten so that instead of bursting from inside a person, her plants still attacked and forced their way inside. I just... it was inconsistent with what had been pretty solidly established.</spoiler>

Apart from that, I really enjoyed this book and I would love to read Hollowell's next one.
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Thank you so much NetGalley and Clarion Books for chance to review this book!



A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell is a dark and twisted fantasy about a group of girl alchemists who are learning to control and expand their magic. This book has so many diverse characters and great representation.

Derry and her siblings have magic. They live with a man named Frank on his isolated land and they aren’t allowed to leave the house. Frank has always told them that people hate alchemists and that the forest is dangerous.  When Derry’s sisters start to go missing, she must confront the forest and figure out what’s happening to her sisters.

I wasn’t expecting to love this book as much as I did. It’s twisted, dark and thrilling. The setting was perfect for the story. I completely fell in love with all of the characters. The plot itself was very intriguing and kept me wanting to know more. 

I highly recommend this book if you love thrilling and creepy books. Perfect for the spooky season!
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A really captivating witch-y book, blood-spattered and perfect for October with Halloween being almost here.

An enchanting story about the importance of family and magic. Derry lives with her eight sisters in a secluded lake house, next to a forest — things are seemingly okay till her sisters start disappearing while she develops a new kinship for the forest and discovers a new part of herself in the process of protecting her loved ones.

I enjoyed reading this quite a lot, it got me really invested and the plot is quite unique. I loved the forest, the tension and the build-up for many parts. Honestly, i loved Derry’s character development, it’s not ideal but it’s just so fitting with the whole vibe of the book and such a nice touch.  The diversity is a really nice addition, too. My only concerns were that the other sisters didn’t really grow on me, only a few did just a bit, and i think there was a lot of wasted potential in that aspect, and that the ending seemed a bit rushed, while the rest of the book had a steady flow. 

But I would generally recommend this ! It’s a really pleasurable read.
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I enjoyed this book but I found it seemed a bit longer than it needed to be IMO. There were times I felt I raced through it and time I felt it slogged. The ending/main action felt a little rushed. 

I did really like the spooky vibes of this story though. I enjoyed the magical elements and the different types of magic each sibling had. It was interesting to see their relationships with each other and their relationship with Frank.
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Derry and her eight siblings live deep in the woods where the only adult in their lives- Frank takes care of them and protects them from people who won't understand their magic. 
As an adult, I was creeped out from the beginning- all these girls in isolation with this dude?
The story is so much more than that- I love the world-building, the forest atmosphere, the fact that I read it clenching my jaw from the stress of trying to figure it all out- Yep all of that.
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CWs: physical abuse, emotional abuse, blood, murder, gun violence
Derry has been away from her parents for a long time. Ever since her magic manifested, her parents drove her to this house in the middle of a forest and left her there. In the house is Frank, her teacher and caretaker, and 8 other girls and nonbinary folk her age, all with powerful magic who need to be taught. They aren’t siblings by blood, but they all consider each other siblings. But then, one of them goes missing, and Derry is determined to protect her own.
This book is a dark contemporary fantasy in every sense of the word. A lot of the book takes place in the titular dark and starless forest, leading to scenes that were creepier than I initially anticipated. It’s also dark as a lot of the book has to do with the emotional abuse they are put through. If physical and emotional abuse is something you are triggered by, this might not be the book for you because it is definitely prevalent. 
Derry has an adopted family, so the cast is very diverse. Multiple characters are fat, queer, mentally ill, people of color, and one of the characters is Deaf so sign language is used often. The only downside is none of the characters felt terribly distinct, so I mixed up many of the siblings together.
The actual plot of the book was… just okay. It was very easily readable and I didn’t find myself wanting to put the book down, but, on the other hand, I didn’t find myself entrenched in the story. There was at least one twist that I didn’t see coming that I enjoyed the reveal of.
I think the problem was that the disparate pieces felt very disjointed, like I was reading two different plotlines. Something would happen with Derry and she would think something and I’d be like “oh, I forgot this book is going int hat direction, because these parts of the book didn’t give me that impression.”
I feel like the best comp for this book is House of Salt and Sorrow. This book is less explicit horror than that one, but both deal with isolated families with disappearing children. If you liked those aspects of that book, I think you’ll like this book.
I rated this book 3 stars. It’s definitely perfect for this time of the year, and I will look out for the books Hollowell puts out in the future.
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A great read, kept me on my toes. I had many theories on what could be going on and it was a very gripping story, where you want to know the mistery desperately - no dropping the book down. I really liked the grey character that Derry was with a moral sense all her own. I regret that the characterisation of the other "sisters" was so minimal. This is really between Derry and Frank, and everyone else take second seat. I think this is what creates the big tension of the book and keep us on edge and focused. I would have liked to know the other sisters better, they remained vague throughout for me, even at the end I feel like we don't know them that well, but that is a very minimal issue. 
This book has a wide and pleasant representation of characters and explores many interesting topics. Highly recommend it.
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