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BOOK REVIEW: What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra

| 4 October 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra

Allen & Unwin
September 2018
Paperback, $16.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult / Horror / Fantasy / Science Fiction


What the Woods Keep is the stunning debut of Katya de Becerra, who combines mystery, science fiction, and dark fantasy in a twisty story that will keep you mesmerized right up to the final page.

To my daughter, Hayden Bellatrix Holland, on her eighteenth birthday, I bequeath my family estate, Holland Manor, upon three conditions:
Look for the gifts I left at the Manor.
Use my gifts to destroy my darkest secret.
Trust no one where my treasure is concerned, especially the ravens.

Hayden’s getting ready for college, living in Brooklyn, and hanging out with her best friend, Del. But now the past is catching up with her: her mother’s mysterious disappearance a decade ago, her father’s outlandish theories about a lost supernatural race, and Hayden’s own dreams of strange symbols and rituals in the Colorado woods where she grew up.

As soon as Hayden arrives in her hometown, Del in tow, it begins. Neighbours whisper about Hayden’s mother, the boy next door is suddenly all grown-up in a very distracting way, and Hayden feels the trees calling to her. And among them, deep in the woods, Hayden will discover something incredible – something that threatens reality itself.



A certain fairy tale tells a story of a girl who is entrusted with a set of keys to a castle upon one condition: not to unlock one special door. Just one.
It is, of course, a test, and the girl fails it. The price of failure? Her life.
This bugs me to no end. Why give the girl the key to a forbidden door and then instruct her not to open it?

On her eighteenth birthday, Hayden inherits her childhood home – on the condition that she uncover its dark secrets. She and her best friend Del decide to go there over the holidays to kill some time.

The house is creepier than Hayden remembers, and at times it’s hard to keep dark thoughts at bay.

The house is listening, watching. A layer of sweat covers my forehead. I’m beginning to think there’s a chance I made some kind of horrible mistake by coming here, that this place—the Manor, Promise, the woods—is a lot more than it seems and that maybe I’m messing with something I don’t understand. Ancient evil that poisons the soul. Mom’s darkest secret, her hidden treasure, her heaviest burden…

I clutch the door handle, turn it, let my hand wander inside until I find the light switch. Flick it on. Remind myself that all those Conjuring movies were written and acted by people and aren’t realThough they were based on supposedly real stories, my inflamed mind supplies unhelpfully.

But it’s not just the creaking and the shadows that are getting the better of Hayden. Del is acting strangely, digging in the basement in her sleep.

After crawling forward a few more feet, my eyes settle on a view that’s definitely B-grade horror-movie worthy.
Del’s in a small area on the far side of the crawl space. She’s on her knees, her back to me. She’s digging up the dirt with her bare hands.
I move closer. Del stops what she’s doing and looks at me over her shoulder.

And the fact that sometimes those shadows and other creepy goings-on lead to something more tangible is somehow more terrifying than just dealing with bumps in the night.

As I read and reread Mom’s “instructions,” I wish someone like Buffy Summers was around so she could ease this strange situation with a quirky remark. But no one’s around—just me (frowning and shivering on the inside), three vials of at least a decade-old, uncoagulated blood, and Mom’s plea for me to go cut myself in the woods.


What the Woods Keep is a particularly interesting debut novel, with so many elements of different ideas and genres that it will keep readers of these various genres on their toes.

Within these pages is a story that is part supernatural horror, part fantasy, part science-fiction, and all kinds of engaging. The format (with some journal entries, notes, records and the like slipped in between chapters) puts this reader in mind of other epistolary novels such as The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich.  But somehow that’s not enough to really give you the entire feel of this genre-bending novel. 

Overall this is a very well-done debut that isn’t hemmed in by what the rest of the books in its various genres do. It melds them together and delivers something else entirely.

Suffice it to say that if you’re a fan of young adult horror, fantasy, mystery, soft sci-fi, or the idea of some combination of all of these, you’re in for one heck of a ride. Strap in!


Category: Book Reviews

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