Review: The Woodcutter, Kate Danley

 I found The Woodcutter on my Kindle and actually have no memory of buying it.  Was I asked to review it?  Did I download it during an idle evening trawling for books on Amazon?  I actually don’t remember.  Curious.  This does feel like the book equivalent of indie music – indeed, The Woodcutter started life as a self-published novel which took off and eventually landed Danley a publishing deal.  I don’t remember being asked to review it but it seems slightly unlikely that I would have found it by myself.  Well – however it came to land up on my Kindle, I’m glad that it did.  It was a beautiful tale for a cold winter’s night, a complex and carefully woven story for fans of folklore and fairy tales. Like Into The Woods but without the songs.  Or much in the way of humour.  And a good bit scarier.  So … maybe not so much like Into The Woods.

The Woodcutter hates to leave his beloved wife to venture into the forest, he knows the danger that lies within.  But he has been charged with a sacred duty and he must obey the call.  He is the one who keeps the peace between the Twelve Kingdoms of Men and the Realm of the Faerie and something wicked this way comes.  A maiden lies dead in a forest glade, only her glass slippers hinting as to who she might have been. Having won three magical axes from the River God, the Woodcutter does his best to set the kingdom to rights, but there are dark figures who have agendas of their own.  There are small golden-headed children traipsing off into the woods who the Woodcutter is not always able to save, a deadly drug trade in pixie dust and there are those who are ready to break all the rules to get what they want.

I read criticisms of this book that stated that it was predictable and its subject matter repetitive but I felt that those people had missed the point somewhat.  The beauty of The Woodcutter came from the way it used the familiar tales and fitted them together to make a wider whole.  At each fresh stage of the drama, it was a delight to recognise another old story shuffling onto centre stage.  The twelve dancing princesses were used to great effect by the wicked lady, there was much to-ing and fro-ing up and down the Beanstalk and the Woodcutter uncovered all kinds of magical mayhem as he went.  It was Danley’s prose though that really elevated this novel above the ordinary; her sentences had such a graceful feel that The Woodcutter felt like a steady-paced dance with not one step out of place.  So many re-workings of fairy stories focus on jazzing up the action and adding extra sex and violence and it was strangely refreshing to read a story with the courage to retain the patterns and poetry of the mythology without worrying about boring the audience.  So true love’s kiss really can save the young couple from the woods, the naming of a thing has incredible power and the sound of a pixie touching the ground can make the whole world stop.

Reading The Woodcutter reminded me of an intricate woodcut (appropriately enough), it was stark and solemn and beautiful.  Even though we were in a fairy tale, the Happy Ever After ending at times seemed far off and unlikely.  The Woodcutter does not skip and sing through the woods, he is a being with worries and disappointments of his own but still, there is a safety in the sense of him as the guardian of the woods, the keeper of the trees.  We may take comfort in him being there in the shadows but just the same, I wish him an easy return to his wife.

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The Woodcutter by Kate Danley
Published by Brilliance Publishing on 2012
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, General
Pages: 271
ISBN: 9781612185408

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