In the Woods, Dark and Deep
by D.L. Rhodes
Genre: Short Stories / Science Fiction & Fantasy
Print Length: 251 pages
Reviewed by Melissa Suggitt
Graphic, disturbing, and insightful: In The Woods, Dark and Deep is a joy ride through horror and fantasy.
West Liberty is a town of secrets, suffering, and salvation. It all depends on your perspective. In this linked short story collection, nothing is off limits.
This book is a delightful foray into the morbid and the macabre and one of the most unique reading experiences I’ve ever encountered. You’d be hard-pressed to find something more innovative in the genre right now. At times I found myself playing a grim game of “Where’s Waldo,” searching the pages for the connections and the hidden Easter eggs in each story.
It kicks off with the succinctly named “Juice,” the tale of a woman who derives pleasure from human…juices. It doesn’t get any less weird from there, and I say that as the highest of compliments. Author D.L. Rhodes deep-dives into some seriously taboo and grotesque scenarios but manages to balance graphic and imaginative narratives with insightful dialogue from the most unlikely of characters.
The most intriguing character here has got to be the enigmatic Madame C. As she pops up in each story, she is Hecate incarnate. I was all about the secret coven vibes we were getting from the start. I won’t get into too much detail, but there’s one particular scene in a later story that exudes female power and energy. I could not get enough of it. It made me want to run into the woods and join them myself. There has always been something mystical and mysterious about the deep, dark woods. It’s easy to believe that it holds ancient, dark secrets. And what better thread to weave together than that which is dark and disturbing?
While each tale is gruesome in its own way, one or two require an iron stomach. Oddly, this might be one of the most exciting things about this collection. How far is too far? It is a challenge for me to make it through without feeling the ick. Some people shy away from death and destruction, but In The Woods, Dark and Deep forces us toface it head on. Along with a plethora of existential questions—about life, death, purpose, survival, pain, justice, good, and evil.
The most poignant of all these questions pops up more than once. Can evil truly be stopped? Is it inevitable? Is it innate or learned? In one story, there’s a full discussion about whether someone can be fundamentally and molecularly changed to feel guilt and remorse when they hadn’t previously. Is that up to us, as a species, to decide? I’ve been pondering the ethics of playing God since putting this story down, and I still haven’t been able to answer that question.
As a whole, this book challenges its audience to ruminate on some heavy topics, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. I advise you to heed these content warnings, but if you, like me, appreciate the horror genre and all of its niche subgenres (and adjacent genres), you will love this work of speculative fiction.
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