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The Trees are Closer Today: Horror in the Woods was originally published in our horror newsletter, The Fright Stuff. Sign up for it here to get horror news, reviews, deals, and more!
What is it about trees? They’re beautiful, they’re good for the world, and — if the books are to be believed — they’re damn creepy. Maybe it’s their size. Or maybe the fact that they outlive us all. Maybe it’s the way that they loom, or the way that they will slowly but inevitably reclaim anything left unattended at the forest’s edge. When they grow old and tall they become like pillars, reaching up to the sun, everything on the ground beneath them lost to the dense moss. When they grow thin and dense, they throw deep shadows amid their interwoven branches. The wind blows and the whole forest creaks and moans. Sometimes, depending on where you are, the forest even seems to breathe. And unlike being on a mountain top, or hiking across some vast open landscape, in the forest your line of sight is always broken. In any direction you look you can only see as far as the next tree trunk. Horizon, what horizon? When’s the last time you saw the sky? And who knows what’s lurking between the trees.
Okay, so maybe I get it. Certainly anyone who has ever been in a forest knows that it can be one of the most disorienting, creepy landscapes to engage with. And even great trees standing alone in the field have a queer sort of magic and myth about them. They’re like old sentinels standing guard over the ghosts of the forests that used to be.
Whatever it is about the trees, one thing is guaranteed: ominous forests in dark fiction always make for good reading. So wander and get lost in these dark arboreal additions to your winter TBR.
And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich
If you’ve read some of my other horror articles, you are probably 0% surprised to see a Dawn Kurtagich book on this list, because I am mildly obsessed with her books. They are frightening, atmospheric, and so creative. While And the Trees Crept In does not share the mixed media/found materials format of Kurtagich’s other books, it is nevertheless a spiraling, psychological horror about two young girls in a big, crumbling house that is slowly being devoured by the forest that surrounds it. And the Trees Crept In, with its terrible Creeper Man, is a story of grief, anger, and the choice we make either to face the horrors in our past or to let them crush us beneath their roots.
Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee
Anyone who read their fairy- and folktales as a child knows that there is no place darker, more wild, more full of dangers and magic than the forest. So it’s no wonder that dark fantasy is dotted with forests full of frightening things. The titular forest of Lori. M. Lee’s Forest of Souls is the particularly unsettling Dead Wood, domain of the Spider King. It is an ancient wood possessed by the souls of the living, and he uses his influence over the forest to keep the peace between kingdoms. But the forest grows wild and restless. Only a soulguide has the power to hold back the trees, and Sirscha Ashwyn is the first of her kind since before anyone can remember. When she accidentally resurrects her best friend, her power is revealed, and she must master her new abilities and force the forest back before the trees of the Dead Wood break free.
Pine by Francine Toon
I have been eyeing Pine for my TBR ever since it came out. It was the cover that first caught my attention. Probably because in Maine we’re born with two radars: deer and evergreens. (I’m joking. Clearly the correct answer is moose and blueberries.) But there was something eerie about even that simple image and I loved it. Then I read the blurb and I loved it more. “The trees are coarse and tall in the winter light, standing like men.” So beautiful. Lauren and her father live in a small village in the Highlands, surrounded by a dense pine forest. But though the village is small, it’s not a simple place. Strange mysteries, vanishings, and unexplained deaths are common, and that includes the disappearance of Lauren’s mother 10 years ago. Everyone seems to know more than they’re saying, and when a local teen goes missing, it becomes uncertain who in the tiny treebound village Lauren can trust.