The Devil’s Woods
by Brian Moreland
Hardcover | eBook
Release Date: December 3, 2013
Cover Price: $16.00 ($12.55 on Amazon)
Review copy received from the author in exchange for an honest review
Fear wears many skins.
Deep within the Canadian wilderness, people have been disappearing for over a century. There is a place the locals call “the Devil’s Woods,” but to speak of it will only bring the devil to your door. It is a place so evil that even animals avoid it.
When their father’s expedition team goes missing, Kyle Elkheart and his brother and sister return to the abandoned Cree Indian reservation where they were born. Kyle can see ghosts that haunt the woods surrounding the village—and they seem to be trying to warn him. The search for their father will lead Kyle and his siblings to the dark heart of the legendary forest, where their mission will quickly become a fight for survival.
Set in the Macaya Woods deep in the forests of British Columbia, there’s a special breed of shape-shifters who lurk around the town of Hagen’s Cove and they’re some pretty sick, twisted creatures. Without giving too much away, they have a shared origin from what one could argue is the novel’s villain, although the townspeople itself can also be construed as the villains in some way.
Our main character is Kyle Elkheart, who is a best-selling horror writer of Native American heritage. The Devil’s Woods starts off with Kyle’s father, John, who is looking for one of his research assistants, Amy, who has gone missing in the woods as part of an expedition. John is a professor at the University of Vancouver, but he’s very in touch with his First Nations heritage and calls upon it for help but seems to fall prey to whatever has been silently ruling this town and plotting to take over. Kyle gets word from one of their cousins in Hagen’s Cove, Ray, that John Elkheart is in trouble. He lives in Seattle and has a troubled relationship with his father as well as his siblings (some more than others) but he agrees to make the trek back to BC.
Accompanying him are his brother, Eric, Eric’s Australian girlfriend Jessica, and their little sister, Shawna, with her boyfriend, Zack, one of the guys in the band she plays in who, as it turns out, is a rather avid reader of horror novels, including Kyle’s, and is a big fan.
Although Kyle’s wife, Stephanie, has been dead for a few years, he starts to develop feelings for Jessica. It’s not easy for Kyle to see her with his brother mostly because he knows better than anyone that Eric is a smooth-talking con artist lothario who sees women as a sport. Tensions rise as the novel goes on and Eric is unable to resist his straying ways, although Jessica grapples with her growing connection to Kyle.
It doesn’t take long for the real villains to emerge, apart from the ones that cause dissension between the family, and they get separated. The family’s grandfather, an Elder, is also present, but hasn’t said much in the last few years and unfortunately even though he’s one of the most important people they need to survive, he can’t help them in the way they need due to the effects of dementia.
The final showdown is set up and gradually all the secret identities are revealed, as Kyle and his family must fight to protect everyone they love in the midst of the shape-shifting monsters, influenced by Canadian Native American legends. While these creatures are similar to the Wendigo, which Moreland has used before in his previous novel, Dead of Winter, they will make you want to keep the lights on at night.
As he did with Dead of Winter, Moreland delivers another horror thriller that delivers thrills, chills, a lot of tension, many “edge of your seat” moments, and a highly compulsive read that makes for the perfect winter reading. Although The Devil’s Woods is set in the present, and not historical fiction like Dead of Winter, if that wasn’t to a reader’s taste, then that means good news for this one as more horror readers may be inclined to take a chance on it. Once again, Moreland’s research into Canada’s history and specifically British Columbia, as well as the Native American myths and legends associated with the region, is very well-done and he presents it in a very engaging way.
I’ve been recommending Dead of Winter to readers ever since I read it a few years ago, and I will continue to recommend it in this review as well because it’s such a high-impact novel. I enjoyed The Devil’s Woods as much as I enjoyed Dead of Winter although that novel remains my favourite of Moreland’s so far. Continue to watch for more of his work in the future, as it will only keep getting better and better.