Early 5bat! Review: The White Forest by Adam McOmber

September 10, 2012 Review 0

*This title will be released on September 11, 2012*

The White Forest

by Adam McOmber

Genre: Historical Fantasy |
Excerpt: No | Book Trailer:  Yes
Reviewed by: Julia | Source:

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; September 11, 2012
  • ISBN-10: 1451664257
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451664256


Near Perfect – Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend.

Sexual Content

Kissing, references to sex.


In the bestselling tradition of The Night Circus and Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger, Adam McOmber’s hauntingly original debut novel follows a young woman in Victorian England whose peculiar abilities help her infiltrate a mysterious secret society.

Young Jane Silverlake lives with her father at a crumbling family estate on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Jane has a secret—an unexplainable gift that allows her to see the souls of manmade objects—and this talent isolates her from the outside world. Her greatest joy is wandering the wild heath with her neighbors, Madeline and Nathan. But as the friends come of age, their idyll is shattered by the feelings both girls develop for Nathan, and by Nathan’s interest in a cult led by Ariston Day, a charismatic mystic popular with London’s elite. Day encourages his followers to explore dream manipulation, with the goal of discovering a new virtual reality, a place he calls the Empyrean.

A year later, Nathan has vanished, and the famed Inspector Vidocq arrives in London to untangle the events that led up to Nathan’s disappearance. As a sinister truth emerges, Jane realizes she must discover the origins of her talent and use it to find Nathan herself, before it’s too late.

Adam McOmber, whose short story collection This New and Poisonous Air earned glowing praise for its evocative prose, here reveals a gift for fantastical twists and dark turns that literary fans will relish.


Fantastical and haunting, from the start THE WHITE FOREST had me glued to the page. I couldn’t tell if our narrator was out of JANE EYRE or THE TELL-TALE HEART, but Jane’s measured description of her strange world had me captivated. Jane is a contradictory mix of petty emotion and open-hearted loneliness, making her both grateful and jealous of the attention of her friends. Even more intriguing, her otherworldly gift seems simultaneously dangerous and innocuous, linked both to her mother’s death and the meaningless colors and sounds the souls of man-made objects project to her.

Though many elements of THE WHITE FOREST remind me of other books and movies that I’ve enjoyed (THE HISTORIAN and Pan’s Labyrinth to name two), Jane herself is a singular experience. Other characters in THE WHITE FOREST comment on her strange charisma, how she isn’t as plain as they first thought. This never comes across as the romance trope of a plain heroine who doesn’t realize how beautiful she is, or only where only her true love sees her inner beauty. Rather, even on the written page Jane seems both muted and mesmerizing. Her narration is almost deadpan, but the circumstances of her story reveal very strong emotions. I can’t even say that I liked her, and certainly much of her actions aren’t admirable in the typical “heart of gold” sense. She can be cruel, she feels the seduction of wielding power over others, and her attachment to Maddie and Nathan is almost smothering. At the halfway point I couldn’t see any happily ever after for Jane, or even predict where this story’s strange magic would take me, but I didn’t need either of those things to keep me riveted to the page.

The mystery of THE WHITE FOREST unfolds on so many different levels. In the present moment, Jane’s friend Nathan is missing. Below that lurks the secret of Jane’s gift and how it relates to both Nathan’s disappearance and Jane’s future. And then deeper still, simmering in the background is the complex alchemy of these relationships; Jane and Maddie and Nathan meshed together in friendship, jealousy, and attraction. I could never tell if the cynical way Jane views her value to Maddie and Nathan was realistic or not, and that tension as much as any other kept me reading for clues.

THE WHITE FOREST isn’t the usual thrilling, sexy urban fantasy, or anything close to steampunk, but I love it all the more for being something out of the norm for me. Jane manages to be magnetic and fascinating without being charming.  She drew me into the mystery of her circumstances without becoming predictable and the pathos of the story is one of foreboding and dread without ever dipping into melodrama or horror. As the story spirals further and further outside human experience, I found myself no less affected.  A captivating ghost story, a gothic to savor, I enjoyed slowing down and immersing myself in this strange, dark world.

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