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  • Writer's picturehaleylynnthomas22

After the Forest by Kell Woods is the Perfect Fairy Tale Retelling (book review)

GENRE: Adult Historical Fantasy
LENGTH: 370 pages
Fifteen years after escaping from the witch’s gingerbread house, Greta and Hans live as outcasts in their village. Greta makes a living by baking gingerbread cookies from the witch’s grimoire. When dark magic encroaches upon their village, Greta is forced to confront her past.
The main characters in the story are Greta (the protagonist), her brother Hans, Greta’s love interest Mathias, and Greta and Hans’ family friend whom they refer to as an uncle but who really is more like a father figure to them. This is a Hansel and Gretel retelling and to me Gretel was always the hero of the story so I’m happy Woods chose her counterpart to be the protagonist as opposed to Hans/Hansel.
What I love about how the characters are written in this book is how complex they all are. Many of their choices are morally grey because they’re doing what they must to survive. In particular, Greta and Hans’ choices are also shaped by their PTSD from their time as the witch’s captives. It could be so easy to villainize characters like Hans for the things he does in the book, but he’s also written to be sympathetic. These are my favorite archetype of character because they feel more real and relatable in their flaws.  
The novel is told from the third person perspective of Greta. At the beginning of every chapter there is a short excerpt about two other characters - whose role in the novel is later revealed. The novel stays mostly true to its fairy tale origins. I am admittedly biased because Hansel and Gretel is my all time favorite fairy tale and I’ve longed for a book like this for years – so take that into account when assessing if this book is for you.
While this would be classified as a fairy tale retelling, I really like the route Woods took in setting this novel in the years after the original fairy tale. Books always try to wrap themselves up in a neat little bow at the end but there is always that wondering as a reader of what happens after the last page – and that’s the angle this book examines.
The book has a pretty simple magic system. The magic system can be divided into what one would classically consider good (greenmagic) and classically evil (tattermagic) – very appropriate for a fairy tale story.
The novel is set in 1600s Germany (the original story hales from Germany) and deals with the sexism/misogyny of the time. Please be warned other potential triggers include miscarriage and rape.
As I already mentioned above, this review is colored by the fact that I love the original fairy tale so much. In my opinion, Woods did the original story justice while also infusing a lot of her own flare into the book. If you like fairy tale retellings then be sure to check this one out!
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