Book Review: Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer

Welcome, Book Lovers!

In this episode, I discuss a YA historical fantasy book, Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer. If you’d prefer to listen to this review, you can check out the full episode on The Bookmarks ‘n Blankets Podcast on your favorite podcast platform or listen below. (This is a spoiler-free post.)

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Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer

Published: January 2021
Genre: Cozy Fantasy | YA Historical Fantasy
Format: Paperback
My Rating: Absolutely Read It
My GR Rating: 5/5 ⭐

Book Synopsis:

In this fantasy kingdom called Tarian, for centuries, the forest has been a really dangerous place because a witch lives there, and she has eight daughters who are tree sirens. They sing songs to lure men and women into the forest so they can kill them and feed their souls to the heartless tree, which gives the witch her power and helps her grow and expand her forest. Recently, there have been more and more reports about the tree sirens causing more damage and destruction around the railroad and targeting more people. No one knows what’s going on, but they fear the wood even more now.  

Owen lives on the edge of the forest with his father, who is an astronomer for the king, and his baby sister, Awela. He helps his father map the stars for the king in his father’s observatory. He also cooks, cleans, and looks after his little sister. The only thing separating them from the wood is a stone garden wall that his father built around their property. 

But one day, his baby sister wanders off into the wood, and Owen runs in after her. Upon entering the wood, Owen and Awela encounter Seren, but instead of killing him and his sister, she protects them and saves their lives. Seren becomes very curious about this boy who ran into the dangerous wood to protect his sister. So, she helps them return home, but they can’t stop thinking about each other. Unable to control his impulses, Owen continues to enter the wood every night to meet Seren, and a beautiful relationship starts to form and grow. He teaches her about his world and brings her things, like strawberries to taste, a phonograph that plays music so they can dance, and his telescope to look at the stars, etc. In return, Seren guides Owen home every night, protecting him from the forest. 

Also, during this time, Seren’s longing to become human grows deeper. But she sees herself as a monster without a soul and doesn’t know how someone like Owen could love someone like her. Seren also keeps a secret from Owen that could rip them apart. 

But then, there’s a shift in the constellations that foretells an old curse and an ancient war between the witch and the king. Seren feels compelled to side with her mother, while Owen is forced to join the King’s army. Can their love withstand huge conflict and overcome this raging war?

Overall Opinion:

Haunting. Bewitching. Brutal. Enchanting. Soul-shattering. 

I went on a ride of emotions with this book. It didn’t take me long for me to become fully immersed in this story. There are nods to two fairytales – Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. But it’s not a fairytale retelling. It is a unique, heartfelt, emotional love story on its own. 

The writing is superb, with brilliant twists that kept me on the edge of my seat. I was utterly enthralled with this book and couldn’t put it down. There weren’t too many slow moments for me. I really became invested in the two main characters and really wanted their love story to come to fruition. Every encounter causes them to face harsh truths about themselves and allows them to grow and develop into the person they were meant to be. The lore in this fantasy world is intriguing as well.

Book Details:

  • Length – I read the paperback version, and it was 359 pages. So it wasn’t too long (and didn’t feel long), and I didn’t take too much time to read it because it was so good. I think it only took me about four to five days.
  • Writing Style – It’s absolutely beautiful prose – elegant, lyrical, poetic, flows nicely, and easy to read. Dual perspectives – the chapters are written from Owen’s POV and Seren’s POV.
  • Cover Art – It’s pretty but nothing spectacular.

What I Didn’t Like About It:

  • Most of the names, for me, were hard to pronounce. I think they were Welsh-inspired, so I didn’t know how to say them and found it frustrating throughout the book when I didn’t think I was properly saying their names in my head. 
  • I enjoyed the magic elements, but what I didn’t like was the lack of rules and explanations. As a reader, we just had to accept things for how they were with minimal explanation. Details were just stated but never fully explored. It was like the magic was random at times and convenient. 
  • As much as I enjoyed the world-building, I did find the city with the castle being next to this magical, enchanted forest a little disjointed. At times, it felt like two different worlds, and I questioned how they could exist next to each other. 
  • The pacing of the love story was a little too fast. I’ve seen many reviewers call it “insta love” and it did feel that way. We didn’t see a progression to falling in love between the two main characters – it just happened. And while that can sometimes happen between two people, these are not two people. It’s a “monster” and a human. I felt like it was too easy for Owen to fall in love with Seren, and I questioned it for a little bit. How can a human fall so quickly and easily for a monster, especially after seeing what she’s done and is capable of doing? I would’ve liked to have seen more buildup of their love story. I wouldn’t have minded if the book was a bit longer to increase this portion of the story. 
  • We could’ve used more ending in the final chapter. I won’t spoil what happens, but I’ll just say that I wanted a little more before closing this book and putting it back on my shelf.

What I Liked About It:

  • The overall writing is beautiful; it’s lyrical, poetic, heavily descriptive with all five senses, and flows together nicely. It was very easy to read. I also enjoyed and appreciated the short chapters. 
  • The world-building is imaginative and creative, also very atmospheric. The wood was creepy and eerie, while it felt like a mix of medieval times and the late 19th century. It was a pleasant surprise to see electricity, railroads, and telegrams used in the story when I first thought it was set in a much older time period without those elements. I also appreciated and enjoyed the cottagecore aesthetic of where Owen and his family lived in the woods. 
  • I enjoyed the gender-swapped Beauty and the Beast nod as well as a little nod to The Little Mermaid. You can definitely see the influence of those two classic fairytales. 
  • Owen is a sweet teenage boy who loves his family, which feels refreshing and unexpected. We see him cook, clean, and lovingly care for his 2-year-old sister, and it was all done from a place of contentment and commitment. Owen is a very family-oriented boy, and we are shown how much he loves his family and wants to keep it together. He’s tender, caring, and hopeful, which is endearing. He was my favorite character.
    • I saw other reviewers refer to him as a “cinnamon roll hero.” I had no idea what that meant, so I looked it up: “A cinnamon roll hero is a sweet, supportive, kind, and oh-so-sweet hero who is just too good for this world.” Alpha Hero goes after what HE wants, but a Cinnamon Roll Hero helps the heroine go after what SHE wants. Could have bits of alpha and bits of beta in him. Owen was definitely a Cinnamon Roll Hero in this story. 
  • I love the two different POVs that we get from Owen and Seren. It made me more invested in both characters because I could understand what they were both thinking and feeling. I especially enjoyed how Seren’s chapters were written. It used non-traditional formatting and a lot of line breaks, similar to poetry, which actually worked really well because it kept reminding us that this character is not human and she doesn’t think like one either. 
  • I thought the forbidden love story was beautiful, but it did take me on an emotional ride. Through the descriptive prose, you can feel the raw emotions of Owen and Seren. You can feel their desperation and longing, feelings of despair and loss, but also hope, wonder and excitement, etc. As the reader, I was curious; I was swooning; I was gutted; I was sobbing. This was the FIRST time ever that I cried while reading a book. I didn’t think it would affect me as deeply as it did, but it definitely struck a cord in my heart, and before I knew it, just tears. Pouring. 
  • I loved the message in this book: there is always a choice to be more than you thought you could be. Seren was born a monster, but Owen shows her that she doesn’t have to do what her mother and ruthless sisters tell her to do. She can disobey them and stand up for herself and choose to live a different life. She doesn’t have to be stuck in the belief that she’s a soulless monster. She can choose a different path for her life, in this case, a path of love and passion. Owen believes she has a soul hidden inside of her, and it’s beautiful to watch Seren begin to believe it, too, and make different (and difficult) choices because she believes that she can be good now. 
  • At its core, this is a quintessential dark fairytale about love, sorrow, human nature, and redemption. 
  • Absolutely DO NOT skip the epilogue. It does complete the story and gives a fuller picture of what happened at the end. I appreciated this short story as a follow-up.

Why You Should or Shouldn’t Read It:

If you enjoy young adult dark fantasy books with powerful, captivating love stories, then I think you’ll really enjoy this one. 

If you don’t enjoy YA fantasy love stories because it is sappy here and there, then you probably won’t like this book.

Final Thoughts:

The author is a master of her craft. Prepare to be enchanted in this world. She wrote a hauntingly stunning love story between a monster and a human that will wrap itself around your heart and squeeze. I read this book back in the middle of March, and these characters and the overall story still pop into my head months later. It definitely left a lasting impression on me. I’m very interested in reading more from this author. Highly recommend!

If you’re interested in this book, you can purchase it here.

*Please note that I am a participant in the Amazon Associates Program and a member of other affiliate programs. I may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made through links in this article.

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