When Silver in the Wood first came out, I heard so much praise for Emily Tesh’s fairy story that I was almost afraid to read it. How could anything live up to that hype? But I am thrilled to say that this novella did not disappoint me. I loved every page of this little gem, and if you enjoy British folklore, queer romance, and sly humor, then I suspect you will love it, too.
Silver in the Wood reveals its mysteries slowly. Sure, you can infer a lot from the blurb on the back of the book (which is just enough to let you know what sort of a book this is), but the full depth comes through one small detail at a time, often revealed with little to no explanation, but arriving with enough frequency that I never felt the truth was being hidden. I almost felt like the plot was flirting with me, letting me make the connections and revealing itself in its own time. Fortunately, Emily Tesh is not nearly as reticent as her narrator, Tobias Finch.
Tobias is the sort of terse, taciturn, anti-social character who could very easily turn into a caricature of mountain masculinity. He lives alone in the woods, completely isolated from the townsfolk, who fear and avoid him. Fortunately, we can tell from the very start that he is much more well-rounded than that description might suggest. For starters, he has a cat. And in the very first paragraph, he invites a young man into his home to get out of the pouring rain. As the scene progresses, we also learn that Tobias has a wonderful, wry sense of humor, a generous spirit (he lets the young man – Henry Silver – stay the night in his bed as it appears that the rain will never let up), and a great depth of personality.
At it’s core, this is a simple story, of love, of time, and of the slow-kindling of hope from despair. Those may be grand themes, but the story itself never forgets the wood that holds them together. I love the setting of this story, which is both symbol – the wood is always a symbol, in every fairy tale – and also a real, growing presence. The sensory details that turn the general concept of a wood into something specific are all aptly chosen.
Forests exist outside the boundaries of human civilization. They are where people go to lose themselves, and also to be found. By that metric, Tobias Finch has been lost for a long time when this story begins. I’ve focused a lot on how beautiful this book is, and how much joy it brought me. Both of those things are true. However, they are not the whole truth. This is a story that does not shy away from the darkness, though it also refuses to linger there, and I am grateful for both of those choices.
I frequently had to pause my reading of Silver in the Wood to just let the sheer joy of a tiny moment or big feeling wash over me. It’s a short book, only 105 pages, but it never feels rushed. The story is as spacious as the woods in which it takes place. I highly recommend this book for the next time you are feeling a bit down, and you need something beautiful and true. This is not the book for when you just need a light distraction, but is a wonderful choice if you want something that goes a little deeper, with a hint of melancholy, but the promise of contentment.