At the age of eleven, Mel Smith’s life found its purpose when she met Sarah Ross. Ten years later, Sarah’s sudden death threatens to break her. To fulfill a final promise to her best friend, Mel travels to an idyllic small town nestled in the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains. Yet Morgan’s Gap is more than a land of morning mists and deep forest shadows.
There are secrets that call to Mel, in the gaze of the gnarled and knowing woman everyone calls Granny, in a salvaged remedy book filled with the magic of simple mountain traditions, and in the connection, she feels to the Ross homestead and the wilderness around it.
With every taste of sweet honey and tart blackberries, the wildwood twines further into Mel’s broken heart. But a threat lingers in the woods—one that may have something to do with Sarah’s untimely death and that has now set its sight on Mel.GoodReads
I received a free copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
I saw one review blurb from Hester Fox on twitter and rushed to Netgalley to request this book. In the words of the book itself; the wildwood called to me. It was right up my alley – witchy vibes in Appalachia with a dash of cult and true crime. And fortunately the book lived right up to my expectations.
If you’re a fan of the movie adaptation of Practical Magic you’ll become enchanted by this atmospheric novel. The beauty is in the details that Reece lingers on. The taste of fresh blackberries. The sound of the wind rustling through the trees. It’s a slow paced story that flows pleasantly along, never seeming to drag due to the mysteries surrounding the plot.
Many have written that the strength of Appalachia is in it’s women, a strength that’s recently been put at risk from waves of misogyny and racism in the area. This book perfectly demonstrates this conflict in action. From an outside perspective Appalachia can look like a very patriarchal region, but for generations the strength and the power is in the women.
When Mel, our main character, arrives in Morgan’s Gap there’s a feeling of draught; we learn people have been leaving the area and the old traditions. Progressively things have begun to look worse in terms of the town, the nearby religious sect, and the political and environmental issues closing in on the area. Through Mel’s arrival she’s able to bring the women back together, and in turn bring strength back to the area. It’s not the political men or the religious men who bring that strength back, it’s the women. (In fact, it’s the radical religious men and the cruel political men who have been harming the area.)
Over the course of the book Mel is introduced to a near coven full of women from all walks of life around the hills – beekeepers, basket weavers, wine makers, singers, glass blowers, hair dressers. Daughters, mothers and grandmothers. At it’s core the book is about generations of women. Generations who stayed, and those who left. Those close to the wildwood and those who broke the bond.
That’s not to say there aren’t men, there are good ones in the hills and their connection to the woods – while different from the women’s – is just as special and highlighted.
The plot to this book is very layered and not obvious at first. As the saying goes – don’t miss the forest for the trees. Although, I found it plenty enjoyable to focus on the present and not spend so much time trying to work the puzzle pieces into place. There were moments when I caught on before the characters, but reading the characters realizations was satisfying enough.
The only fault I could find in the book was at times the dialogue can feel stiff with exposition. There is a plot point where this could be explained, but due to it continuing to make me pause while reading the book I’m listing it as a fault.
An aspect I particularly loved was how relationships were developed and discovered in this book. Mel ends up going from having no one to having so many people in her life and Reece’s depiction of all the different types of love, especially between women, was beautiful. I don’t want to spoil anything, but how Reece incorporates the tradition of a witch’s familiar and their relationship was fantastic. I loved it.
This is a lovely, atmospheric book can obviously be read at any time of year, but I personally feel like now – in the late summer days where the weather gets unbearably hot and then cool at night – was well suited for the vibes of the book. I could go on gushing about this book, but trust me when I say if anything about the description intrigued you, you’ll love this book.
Title: Wildwood Whispers
Author: Willa Reece
Page #: 390
Published: August 2021
Suggested Reading: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman, The Familiars by Stacey Halls