*I received a free ARC of this novel, with thanks to the author, The Parliament House and NetGalley. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: The village of Krume is plagued by a haunted wood and a hungry witch. It’s been that way for as long as Hans and Greta can remember, though they have never seen the witch themselves; no one has.
When men start to disappear once again in the cover of night – their bloody hearts turning up on doorsteps – the village falls into frenzied madness.
Hans and Greta, two outcast orphans, find themselves facing accusations of witchcraft and are met with an ultimatum: burn at the stake, or leave the village forever.
With nowhere else to go, they abandon their only home.
As they venture into the strange forest, their path is fraught with horrific creatures, wild and vivid hallucinations, and a mysterious man tied to the witch’s past.
The Shrike is watching, just beyond the deep darkness of the woods.
The Shrike and the Shadows is a dark-woods blend of fairytale and horror, suitable for adults… provided they have strong nerves and strong stomachs! Expect sex, violence, cannibalism and floppy headed corpse puppets.
The story follows siblings Greta and Hans as they are forced to leave their little village and flee into the witch-haunted woods surrounding, as Greta is accused of witchcraft thanks to the lustful actions of the men around her. Ironically, of course, Greta’s banishment sends the twins straight into the domain of the REAL witch… the legendary Shrike who craves men’s hearts (and other parts).
The obvious fairytale comparison here is Hansel and Gretel, as this forms the core of the plot and the two main characters, but the author has cleverly woven elements from Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast and The Ice Queen (the original versions, red in tooth and claw, not the pretty Disney tales) into the story too.
The underlying themes here deal with carnal desires and ‘beastly’ appetites vs. purity, loyalty and the moral desire to do the right thing. The author shows that a supposedly religious individual might be willing to sacrifice his morals to sate his lusts, while a literal beast can hold true to deeper values.
A couple of things didn’t work as well as I would have liked in the story. Hans is quite an unsympathetic character throughout, and his actions are just as bad as some of the villains’ in places, so Greta’s insistence on justifying and defending him becomes pretty tiresome after a while. Similarly there is quite a lot of repetition in him leaving her, and her chasing after him. Personally I would have been glad to see the back of him!
The story ends on a complete cliffhanger, ready to lead straight into a sequel and I can only see the tone and content getting darker and more adult based on what has unfolded so far. So, if you fancy a journey through the dark woods with no breadcrumbs to guide you to safety, then The Shrike and the Shadows might be for you. Just be sure to keep hold of your heart…
Please, not Hans, she thought, begging softly to herself. Not today.
She ran to the front door of their home breathlessly. Her trembling hands yanked on the latch as she swung it open, revealing nothing but a dirt path. What she thought would be waiting, was nowhere to be found. Which meant that Hans was safe—for now. She grasped at her stomach, the knot of sickness that had taken her unclenching itself. Greta could have wept, but another scream broke out across the early morning, like a crack of thunder just before a storm.
Only, this time, it was followed by a wallowing cry.
Shackles of worry wrapped themselves around Greta, wrenching her away from the perfect illusion of safety they had grown into. A scream like that could only mean one thing, and she was certain of it.
The Shrike had come again in the night.
– Chantal Gadoury & A.M. Wright, The Shrike and the Shadows
The Shrike and the Shadows is available on Amazon right now! Find more from the authors on the links below: