Prior to reading Whisperwood, I knew Alex Woodroe as an excellent editor and a tireless supporter of indie authors. I had read one short story by her, “Searching for Uberwald” in the excellent collection, It Was All a Dream—in my review I called it a story steeped in Romanian folklore, lyrical and haunting.
Whisperwood is all that and so much more, a tale awash in mystery and magic, with a cast of characters who are achingly real whether they’re human or not. The novel is timeless, set sometime in a rural, Eastern European distant past, although clues make it clear there are larger towns in existence.
Anna is a young woman fleeing a toxic relationship from a man who nearly killed her and then poisoned her entire world against her, convincing them she’s a witch. She’s trying to get lost, to both save herself and maybe find a purpose. The place she finds is the small, mysterious village of Whisperwood, a place so isolated, so insular, that it’s hard to find and even harder to enter.
She discovers a village in turmoil, a liminal place where deep folk magic coexists tensely with another world, an uneasy balance that can’t hold. Before long she’s embroiled in events spinning wildly out of control.
Woodroe’s language is evocative—she draws you into her world and keeps you hanging on every word. Her characters, particularly Anna, are fully realized. In fact, I fell a little in love with Anna. She’s flawed and unsure of herself, but also brave as can be, with a hidden reserve of strength that she shares with everyone around her. Woodroe’s setting, absolutely saturated with magic, is well-thought out and intriguing. This may be a first novel, but it doesn’t read like it.
Whisperwood release July 13, 2023, and is available for pre-order now. Meanwhile, I’m already looking forward to her next novel.