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The White Forest

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Young Jane Silverlake lives with her father in a crumbling family estate on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Jane has a secret—an unexplainable gift that allows her to see the souls of man-made objects—and this talent isolates her from the outside world. Her greatest joy is wandering the wild heath with her neighbors, Madeline and Nathan.

But as the friends come of age, their idyll is shattered by the feelings both girls develop for Nathan, and by Nathan’s interest in a cult led by Ariston Day, a charismatic mystic popular with London’s elite. Day encourages his followers to explore dream manipulation with the goal of discovering a strange hidden world, a place he calls the Empyrean.

A year later, Nathan has vanished, and the famed Inspector Vidocq arrives in London to untangle the events that led up to Nathan’s disappearance. As a sinister truth emerges, Jane realizes she must discover the origins of her talent, and use it to find Nathan herself, before it’s too late.

303 pages, Hardcover

First published September 1, 2012

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About the author

Adam McOmber

13 books90 followers
Adam McOmber is the author of three novels, The White Forest (Simon and Schuster), Jesus and John (Lethe), and The Ghost Finders (JournalStone) as well as three collections of stories, This New & Poisonous Air and My House Gathers Desires (BOA Editions) and Fantasy Kit (Black Lawrence). His queer, erotic reimagining of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles was released by Lethe Press in October 2022. His work has appeared recently in Conjunctions, Kenyon Review, Salt Hill and Diagram. He teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing Program and is the editor-in-chief of the literary magazine Hunger Mountain.

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5 stars
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347 (22%)
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532 (34%)
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272 (17%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 359 reviews
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,102 reviews409 followers
May 3, 2012
Literary masterpiece! The story itself is odd yet compelling. The first ten pages are confusing but slowly the conflict takes shape. Jane, a somewhat backward girl, senses the living souls of matter. Sometimes deafening and disturbing and other times calming and complete, Jane shares her gift with her best friends, Maddie and Nathan. Unfortunately, Jane knows little of human nature and petty jealousies. The story gathers speed even in nineteenth century England, as Maddie and Jane try to solve the mystery of Nathan's disappearance. This will eventually lead them to the charismatic and possibly dangerous cult and persona of Ariston Day.

Feel free to leave any pre-conceived ideas about Genesis and "In the beginning..." The beginning may have begun before. I didn't love the conclusion although it is not disturbing. It is the logical conclusion. I loved the prose and originality and the way the story reveals itself in a way to be believable (in a surreal manner) and an enjoyable way to spend a day of reading.

It's weird and dark and can be compared to Night Circus in that way but not as much fun as Night Circus.
Profile Image for Madly Jane.
607 reviews126 followers
March 12, 2020
Annotating for reading class, REREAD 2020

REREAD 2016!

I reread this book because of the way magic is organic, because it deals with a sort of goddess myth, Victorian magic and superstition, because of tone and mood, and some of the best details. I absolutely love Jane. I wish I had my first review, but I've deleted it. My conflict with the book on first read was the use of flashbacks, and how some of the story is a flashback within a flashback, and also I wanted The White Forest to be more dangerous than it was. However, this book really holds up on a 5th or 6th reading. It's a fantastic moody, highly descriptive story of a young woman, coming of age in Victorian London area, and facing a great threat to her sanity and sense of identity. I adored the Fetches. I can't stop thinking about them. The whole mythological landscape of this novel haunts my imagination for reasons that are rooted in cunning magic, in the primitive feel of folklore and in the mastery of faith.

It's a love story, too. It's intelligent. It's a book I wish I had written.

It's difficult to rate this book, because I have such mixed feelings about it but I am going to give it my best rating because there is nothing like it out there. It's original, dark, Gothic, and highly descriptive in a way that makes you feel, see, smell, and taste the words. It's also a novel that I wanted to love, even as I read it and felt uncertain; I'd change my mind on the next page and say, "this is beautiful, disturbing and a great novel."--but then on the next page, I'd feel the same frustrations I felt over and over again. I do believe Adam McOmber has a great career ahead of him, and that many people are going to love this novel. But not all. It's too different. It's ambitious. It follows no tropes or patterns. The White Forest is, in truth, an irresistible read that I could not put down. It's also a book that I come back to over and over. It lingers and morphs and not much fiction does that. It's totally original.

Some of my notes:
Completely addictive. Flawed. Messy. Wonderful. Sad. Gorgeous. Jane is an incredible character. Wish the end had been different. Flashback is not my style/who cares.I loved it. Must make long review. I tend to keep reading bits and pieces of it because I do like it in so many ways.

I know I will read it again. It's on my Keeper Shelf. It just defines labels. And maybe that is why people had a difficult time liking it as some of the reviews show. But I love it. I'll always love it. It doesn't need defending. It's a little masterpiece of gothic that is gorgeously weird.
Profile Image for Julia.
2,513 reviews66 followers
August 31, 2012
Fantastical and haunting, from the start THE WHITE FOREST has me riveted to the page. I can't tell if our narrator is out of JANE EYRE or THE TELL-TALE HEART, but her measured description of her strange world has me captivated. Jane is a contradictory mix of petty emotion and open-hearted loneliness, making her grateful and jealous of the attention of her friends. Even more intriguing, her otherworldly gift seems both dangerous and innocuous, linked both to her mother's death and a meaningless presentation of colors and sounds when she touches certain objects.

The mystery of THE WHITE FOREST unfolds on so many different levels. At the present day, Nathan is missing. Below that lurks the secret of Jane's gift and how it relates to both Nathan's disappearance and Jane's future. And then deeper still, simmering in the background is the complex alchemy of these relationships; Jane and Maddie and Nathan meshed together in friendship, jealousy, and attraction. I could never tell if the cynical way Jane views her value to Maddie and Nathan was realistic or not, and that tension as much as any other kept me reading for clues.

Though many elements of THE WHITE FOREST remind me of other books and movies that I've enjoyed (THE HISTORIAN and Pan's Labrynth to name two), Jane herself is a singular experience. Other characters in THE WHITE FOREST comment on her strange charisma, how she isn't as plain as they first thought. This never comes across as the romance trope of a plain heroine who doesn't realize how beautiful she is, or only her true love sees her inner beauty. Rather, even on the written page Jane seems both muted and mesmerizing. Her narration is almost deadpan, but the circumstances of her story reveal very strong emotions. I can't even say that I liked her, and certainly much of her actions aren't admirable in the typical "heart of gold" sense. She can be cruel, she feels the seduction of weilding power over another, and her attachment to Maddie and Nathan is almost smothering. At the halfway point I couldn't see any happily ever after for Jane, or even predict where this story's strange magic would take me, but I didn't need either of those things to keep me riveted to the page.

THE WHITE FOREST isn't the usual thrilling, sexy urban fantasy, but I love it all the more for being something rarer. Jane manages to be magnetic and fascinating without being charming, she drew me into the mystery of her circumstances without being predictable, and the pathos of the story is certainly one of foreboding and dread without ever dipping into melodrama or horror. A captivating ghost story, a gothic to curl up around and savor, I enjoyed slowing down and immersing myself in this strange, dark world. As the story spirals further and further outside human experience, I found myself no less affected. An "ever after" of silence and peace, is that happiness?

Full review to follow.
Profile Image for Tahlia Newland.
Author 23 books82 followers
October 6, 2012
This is a difficult review to write, because it’s a well crafted book and I’d like to like it, but for me, White Forest misses the mark conceptually and in its overall mood. Though some will love its dark pagan undercurrents and fuzzy mysticism, I think it’s unnecessarily confusing.

The story

White Forest is set on the edge of Hampstead Heath just after the Crimean war. The main character, a young woman called Jane Silverlake, can hear the souls of man-made objects (we’re already on shaky conceptual ground here.) Of course, all the noise is rather annoying which is why she likes the peaceful silence she hears from nature.

Her ‘talent’ can be experienced by others when she touches them, and when her friend Nathan Ashe discovers this, he undertakes a series of experiments with Jane to try to understand her talent. After his return from the Crimea he becomes interested in a secretive cult led by Ariston Day, a charismatic mystic, and soon after disappears from the streets of Victorian London without a trace.

White Forest is essentially a mystery as Jane and her other friend, Madeline Lee try to work out what happened to Nathan while keeping their secrets from the famed Inspector Vidocq who is undertaking his own investigation. The search for answers leads the girls into danger, mysticism, and eventually to Jane’s discovery of the nature and extent of her power. Readers wanting to confirm their beliefs about the dangerous nature of cults will find plenty to satisfy them here.

My opinion
The writing is good, as is the pacing, characterisation, story arc and so on, but I feel that the concept hasn’t been fully thought through. There’s great potential here, but it needs more work to make it believable and accessible. As it is, we aren’t sure what is meant by the ‘soul’ of objects—isn’t a soul something only sentient beings have? This is probably just a poor use of the word. I would suggest ‘inner vibration’ or some such term would have more accurately described what the author was talking about.

The basic assumption that there is something inherently pure beneath the surface of the world is philosophically sound, but that it is viewed as a white forest populated with white apes, accessible via the talents of a woman who hears the ‘souls’ of inanimate objects and exists within the physical being of a woman is highly suspect. Though some of the images later in the book hint at a deeper understanding, they lack the clarity of context required for us to make sense of them. The nature of and relationship of this ‘pure state’ to reality is unclear and perhaps that is the main flaw.

There may well be some Pagan deity called the Lady of the Flowers, and perhaps the imagery used belongs in that context, but it still needs to be woven into a contemporary novel in such a way as to make sense.

Apart from the conceptual issues which, as someone with a strong background in philosophy, I am more picky on than most, I didn’t like the main characters. Jane is dour and dull, Madeline is duplicitous and shallow, and Nathan manipulative. My favourite character was Pascal. His sweet innocence and loyalty was refreshing.

The overall mood was also too dark for my taste, and an end that could have had an uplifting nature was as dour as the main character herself.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,770 reviews4,255 followers
February 19, 2023
In Victorian London, Jane Silverlake is a young woman with a singular talent: she can discern the ‘voices’ of inanimate objects, and can also pass this ability on to others by touching them. The plot revolves around the disappearance of Jane’s friend Nathan, his involvement in a cult known as the Temple of the Lamb, and Jane’s attempts to find him (with the dubious ‘help’ of their mutual frenemy Madeline). This book is the most similar thing I’ve read to The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters and its sequels; while not exactly steampunk, McOmber’s version of London, filled with obscure folk heroes and festivals, always feels vaguely skewed. I had some problems with The White Forest: the pacing is off, with the story repeatedly gaining momentum and then suddenly grinding to a halt; the plot is definitely overstuffed. Reading it feels a bit like inhaling a cloud of floral perfume. Overall, though, it’s simply so imaginative and ambitious and weird that it won me over. ‘Too much’ in a good way.
Profile Image for Jane.
Author 10 books822 followers
March 20, 2019
Where I got the book: I was offered a free review copy by Simon & Schuster in return for an honest review. Touchstone, the publisher of The White Forest, is a S&S imprint.

***SPOILER ALERT*** I’ve tried very hard not to give the story away, but hints of it may show through in this very long review. I’m really writing for those who have already read the book and want to know what others think about it. So if you’re here because you’re wondering whether to read this novel, you might want to read it first and then come back.

A word about my rating: In many respects, I dislike the star rating system for books. This is one of those moments when trying to rate a book turns my brain into a pretzel as I weigh up the writer’s ability to use prose to create an atmosphere, his fundamental writing skills seen as an art rather than a precise science, whether I found the story’s premise convincing or not AND whether another type of reader, looking for different things in a novel, would either love or hate this book. The White Forest gets four stars because while I had serious issues with some aspects of it, to be fair as a reviewer I have to give the writer credit for the other elements.

The story: Jane leads an isolated life on Hampstead Heath, a wild area of north London. Since the death of her mother when Jane was six, Jane has experienced inanimate objects as animate beings that give off sound, colors, lights, even memories. She can transfer the sensations she feels to other people by touch, and mute their effect on herself by remaining grounded in the natural world (notably by wearing flowers tied to her wrist). Her abilities isolate her from other people—who naturally fear them—and her only friends are Maddy, another of society’s outcasts because she is the daughter of a medium and a disgraced daguerrotype artist, and Nathan, the object of both girls’ yearning. Maddy fears Jane’s “ability” and is jealous of the hold it has over Nathan, who sees Jane as a way to reach an otherworldly place they call the Empyrean. When Nathan disappears into a cult society to which his search for the Empyrean has led him, Maddy and Jane work to bring him back, both together and in competition.

What I liked about the novel: To begin with, it was well-written—good dialogue, vivid descriptions, nice pacing and so on. I noted a couple of spelling/grammar snafus in passing (like someone being in the “throws” of some sort of dilemma) but these days that’s usually due to overworked, short-staffed editing departments. And the writing had depth to it; I found myself caught up in wondering if Jane was a reliable narrator or a deluded hysteric (bring on the hysterical Victorian ladies!) and transfixed by the sexual imagery of Jane as the doorway (something to be opened and explored), the stag, the hole in the tree, the red dress, the animals in the white forest…toward the end I began to see the story as an allegory of sexual frustration, a woman taking power over the physical world in a desperate effort to reach fulfillment. And there was the more overt theme of the imbalance of the male power of technology with the female power of the natural world; all very interesting and thought-provoking, although I struggled to find a structure to the narrative that would make it clear what the author thought about these matters. Possibly—since this is a debut novel—the inchoate impression I received is due to the author grasping for half-formed themes that will be worked out in later writings. Given the amount of vapid fluff that makes up about 80% of novel writing, I should be glad to see a writer with some ballast in his brainbox, right?

Where I had issues: Early on in this novel I began to wonder which decade of the Victorian era we were in. Those who follow my reviews may know that I’m not generally a stickler for historical accuracy and will accept that an author may, for the sake of the story, alter an event or a place from time to time. In my own writing I like to invent locations, and I love the world-building elements in the fantasy sub-genres when done right. I was tickled to death, for example, when in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter the reason given for Lincoln’s determination to win over the Confederacy was that those darn Southerners were EVUL VAMPIRES. The preposterousness of the premise made it obvious that the filmmakers had little regard for the historical record and therefore I could sit back and enjoy the movie without a care in the world about accuracy (although others do care, and the list of goofs for this movie on IMDb makes entertaining reading).

So why did The White Forest turn me into the History Police? It began, as I said above, because I started to wonder when, exactly, this story was unfolding. Chapter 1 is subheaded, unhelpfully or is it teasingly? “Hampstead Heath, 18—“ and much of the tone of the story seemed to indicate that it was set in the very late 19th century, after 1885, say. References to, for example, dream theory and the New Woman sounded very fin-de-siècle.

Flipping to the Author’s Note revealed only that he admitted to not moving the Crystal Palace to its post-1854 location, but nothing else. So what was niggling at me? Then I realized that Nathan had just returned from the Crimean War, dating the novel to around 1857—and that pretty much all other checkable references were therefore anachronistic (see my updates for details). Including the snortable fact that Inspector Vidocq, who comes to London to investigate Nathan’s disappearance, died in 1857 so must in fact have been a zombie detective, not a bad idea when I come to think of it: Sherlock Holmes, Zombie Sleuth might be a worthy contribution to the recent spate of mashups aimed at bored kids who despise history and literature anyway. Can’t be much worse than the Robert Downey Jr. version. Harrumph.

But I digress, and heaven knows this review is long enough without the digressions. At some point while I was merrily pointing out the anachronisms on Goodreads the author contacted me and cheerfully admitted that he was playing with the historical record. And yes, I knew going in that this was supposed to be a Gothic fantasy novel. I felt that a fantasy reader looking purely for the thrill of strange theories and weird happenings might have no problem with the anachronisms, and actually I’d rather like comments from readers with a taste for fantasy based in the past—what bookfriend Ashley called "...historically-influenced fantasy as opposed to simply fiction set in an historical period with some small fantastical elements."

So can a Gothic story ignore the rules of historical fiction? The best quote I could find about Gothic novels was by critic Ellen Moers, who said, “But what I mean -- or anyone else means -- by "the Gothic" is not so easily stated except that it has to do with fear. In Gothic writings fantasy predominates over reality, the strange over the commonplace, and the supernatural over the natural, with one definite auctorial intent: to scare.” I have read very little by H.P. Lovecraft (to be honest, I can’t stand Cthulhu) but I did recognize this novel as Lovecraftian, “a sub-genre of horror fiction which emphasizes the cosmic horror of the unknown (in some cases, unknowable) over gore or other elements of shock, though these may still be present.” So we’re talking about writing in which the emphasis is on creating a certain atmosphere and eliciting chills by putting the reader imaginatively in touch with a supernatural world, and The White Forest does this pretty well.

On the other hand, this novel is packaged so as to attract the historical fiction reader, although the cover of my copy—a Blair Witchy “trees in the night” design—is less overtly HF than the original back-view-of-Victorian-chick motif. And indeed it first came to my attention because it was being added to the lists of HF readers. Now, the readers of historical fiction tend to expect a certain level of trust in their authors; they want to feel that said authors have at least tried to locate their story within a certain historical framework and gone to some effort to ensure, if not “accuracy” (a slippery word when applied to history—for example, the discovery of the Mary Rose in England radically changed many ideas about life in Tudor times), at least plausibility. The debate about historical accuracy in fiction just never dies, as the recent flood of writing about the televised version of Philippa Gregory’s Cousins’ War books shows, and I’m constantly coming across great writing about where fact ends and imagination begins and how genres such as steampunk deliberately manipulate the past to the delight of readers.

Some readers get extremely upset about novelists altering history to suit their own purposes, especially when they imbue real historical people with traits—often negative—that readers do not think they had COUGHCOUGHPHILIPPAGREGORY. While writing this review I followed a Facebook thread about how casual (i.e. historically uninformed—HF readers tend to be smug about this) viewers of Gregory’s series now believe Edward of Lancaster was a rapist and this is WRONG! The past, many readers feel, is not the novelist’s private playground; these were real people who lived and died, sometimes horribly, and did or did not love their wives—they are, in fact, us, and how would we feel if a novelist misrepresented us in all our glorious complexity? So the argument goes that any writer who attempts to set his or her work in a defined historical era must try to be true to that era’s history and the psychological makeup of its people.

So when a writer like McOmber begins to play around with the historical timeline, some readers may be incensed. For many of the HF readers I know, anachronisms are a dealbreaker. So my next thought is, can the same be said of the readers of literary fiction? Because The White Forest could also be dropped into that bookshelf due to the quality of the writing and its themes AND the fact that it doesn’t fit perfectly with either historical fiction or fantasy. I find myself wondering if the new cover (and the fact that it has a reading group guide) is an attempt to push the novel in that direction.

I feel I’ve spent way more time on this novel than I really should, but it has certainly raised some interesting questions. Reading being the incredibly subjective art that it is, many of those questions will never receive satisfactory answers, and I’m the last person to suggest that writers should be bound and gagged by a set of rules. In particular, I want to see new writers explore and struggle, and I think that’s what I’m seeing here. Some writers decide they are going to write in a specific genre, learn the rules of that genre thoroughly and then apply them rigorously. That’s a pretty quick way to commercial success if you also have some talent, but to my mind it’s not doing the craft of writing—or the writer—any favors. I read many, many, many HF books where the writer has applied the “formula”—beats, acts, layering, short sentences, blah blah blah—with greater or lesser success, but somehow that formula always shows through like black paint under white. I have a great deal of time for writers who write what they want to, and damn the consequences. I will therefore be looking out for what McOmber does next.
Profile Image for Sarah Mac.
1,079 reviews
May 12, 2023
Outside the coffeehouse, rent girls and other lowborn ephemera regarded the details of Nathan’s face inked on posters that fluttered from black iron lampposts—his high pale cheekbones, architectural brow, and eyes that seemed, even on paper, like holes that lead to a system of tunnels in the earth. Nathan Ashe was becoming more myth than man, and everyone in London was touching him, running their fingers over the contours of his absent body.

Good, but incredibly weird—it feels mixed together from sources like Jane Eyre, Fata Morgana, Glass Books of the Dream-Eaters, Poe, LeFanu, Jonathan Strange, The Great God Pan, & Lewis Carroll. It’s a dark mirror but not a true fantasy; Jane’s emotional turmoil is earth-bound, so it draws on paranormal elements to weave mysticism, cosmic horror, & goddess themes with an off-kilter friendship/love triangle. So despite a Pre-Raphaelite canvas for the story—dreamy, ethereal, almost whimsical—the overall feel is dark, taut, & thoroughly Lovecraftian with its escalating sense of cosmic overload.

The single biggest motif is absence, & you could write a lengthy scholarly essay on the various absences throughout—external absence, internal absence, physical absence, emotional absence, absences of time, space, & sound, or even the absence of morality & compassion. But TBH, I don’t think I’m able to analyze it properly; Lovecraftian fic isn’t my strong suit, & I generally avoid reading material that requires too much gazing into the Infinite Perspective Vortex. Did I like it? More than most novels of this type. Will I ever reread it? Probably not.

A word about historical context—the exact date is unspecified, but Nathan is involved in the Crimean War & the Crystal Palace has been finished, which sets the backdrop in the 1850s. Fine & dandy. However, I doubt many HF purists will appreciate that backdrop being shunted aside for the uber-ethereal Empyrean, & the finale is just…really, really odd. I’m not sure I liked it, but it was compelling in its way, so I’m not sorry I read it. Who would like this? *shrug* People who like Weird, New Weird, anything remotely Lovecraftian, or readers who don’t care whether their HF is mixed 50/50 with fantasy elements. If you liked The Death of Jane Lawrence, you’ll probably like this too.
Profile Image for David.
2,552 reviews80 followers
October 10, 2012
More akin to a New Weird, a Fey fantasy or even Urban fantasy than to a real Gothic novel. Twee descriptions and prissy characters do not add up to a faux Victoria novel. The characters are much too modern to ever feel like you're experiencing the past. Constant and irritating digressions dull what very little pace there is. I was very much looking forward to a Gothic novel, and I did not find one here. It's billed as a scarey read. It's not. It's boring from start to finish.
Profile Image for Lou.
879 reviews860 followers
September 14, 2012
The author has crafted together a winner of a story on many levels.
He has chosen the dark and Gothicness of Victorian London amongst the days of Edgar Allen Poe and Percy shelly and set the story around a vast evergreen of beautiful and haunting of the Hempstead Heath, plagued with a deep ancient mythical past that has an ever present energy calling a particular woman Jane that traces its origins possibly back before man and religion treaded upon its soil.
There are big questions over the main protagonists supernatural and paranormal abilities and the missing of one man Nathan who one discovers is caught in a love triangle between two women, childhood friends.
Jane needs to understand many things but amongst all the splendour and talk of other worlds something more dear and humble she needs to understand her one first love her mother and what legacy she left behind.
As the story travels down a road to an eventfully grande conclusion of discovery and truths you'll find yourself compelled and steeped in a sense of place and intrigue. 
This adventure made me think of the movie Stardust which was adapted from the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name. This was a great effort for a debut and displays a storytelling quality that has supernatural and history mixed together with some nice writing similar to the authors like Neil Gaiman and Robert McCammon.
As you walk with Jane you will enjoy all that the author brings to the table,
step back into a Dickens like world with Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe as your guides.

"The Heath remained a memory of younger days when our friendship was still elegant—not yet fettered by jealousies or thoughts of unnatural forces. The three of us had forged our bond walking those houseless heights beneath the great marble skies watching storm-dark clouds cast shadows on the tall grass. We passed through forests of hawthorn and birch that rose above purple bogs and walked fields lush with wild iris and lavender. Hampstead Heath was like a chapel, serene and godly, and I loved the feeling of the wind burningmy cheeks as it swept down over the hills. When I walked there, I felt the poetry of Keats and Coleridge clinging to its winding paths. But such poetry was nothing compared to the presence of my friends. Our walks provided a sense of stability and comfort that I hadn't felt since before my mother died. When I was with Maddy and Nathan, I was no longer the lonesome girl lurking in shadows. Instead, I imagined I belonged. I could laugh and even felt that I might one day fall in love."

"He was the well-born son of Lord William Ashe. ���been a soldier in Lord Wellingtons brigade in the Crimea and was adept at archery and fond of pistols. He possessed a kind of ethereal Saxon beauty, and when he entered a room, those present—no matter how they felt about him socially—paused to admire his stature. Nathan disliked the law and abhorred his fathers House of Lords. He was a free spirit who read poetry and, on more than one occasion, was found curled on a doorstep after a drunken night at the Silver Home. But none who could make such a list knew the true Nathan Ashe that Maddy and I came to know. He was filled with the sort of fret and despair that needed tending. At the same time, he acted as though we were his equals, taking us on adventures most would have considered too dangerous for young women. We were the ones who truly loved him, and yet we too were left without him."

"I turned the envelope over and let the button drop into the palm of my hand. As soon as it touched my skin, I experienced the flash of an image that was quite distinct and unlike anything I'd ever perceived from an object before. What I saw appeared to be a stage set populated by painted trees, and above the trees was a black sky decorated with odd bits of glass that were meant to look like stars. The entire false forest was contained within some type of stone chamber, reminiscent of a catacomb. It was so dark there that I could barely see, and the acrid smell of paint that had been used to create the illusion of trees filled my lungs. I had a sense that what I was seeing was an actual place, somewhere in London Then I heard the distant sound of a trumpet, the sort of horn that signaled the opening of a hunt."

" From a distance, the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park appeared quite impossible—as if the whole of its turreted glass structure was nothing more than a grand illusion. It seemed an endless and transparent mirage, drifting over the park's grassy field, blazing in the sun. It had opened its doors in May as a showplace for the stunning achievements of Victorias empire, and though I hadn't dared to pay a visit as most of London had, I'd read numerous reports.
The palace was a marvel of human invention, composed entirely of glass—some three hundred thousand panes, suspended across a scant metal skeleton that encompassed a great expanse of the park. Many viewers attested that being inside the structure was initially disturbing. The structure produced a dizzying sensation, as sunlight was amplified by the glass panes, and some said they feared being "crushed" by all that dazzling light.
The queen herself visited the Crystal Palace, showing particular interest in the great aviary that was filled with fifteen hundred canaries. It was well known that Victoria was a lover of birds, and this particular display was said to provide a marvelous and disorienting rush of color and noise."

" The view of the Southwark slums from Blackfriars was one of crooked houses inked on a vellum sky. Dwarf stone walls circled cinder gardens. An exhaustive tangle of streets for which no map had ever been drawn, sprawled in all directions. The Roman soldiers had used the area to bury their dead, and in our time, it housed many of the city's stink industries (glue factories, vinegar makers, tanneries, and the like). A brown haze drifted across over the cupolas and towers, nearly obscuring the skeletal dome of the pleasure garden called the Temple of the Lamb, beneath which we would find Ariston Days Theater of Provocation."
Profile Image for Christine.
Author 22 books241 followers
April 19, 2012
This new novel (soon to be released) is both a beautifully written and compulsively readable literary thriller. McOmber writes with an enviable imagination and the sense of foreboding, mystery and eroticism throughout - all are handled with expertise.
Profile Image for Evie.
714 reviews925 followers
September 10, 2012
Written in beautiful, 19th century-sque language, full of visually sumptuous sceneries and vividly depicted, memorable characters, The White Forest is a gorgeous gothic novel that combines elements of historical fiction, fantasy, horror and romance.

Set in Victorian England, this seductive and mysterious novel tells the story of one young man's sudden disappearance and the frantic search that ensues. The well-born son of Lord William Ashe, Nathan, goes missing. It happens not long after Nathan -- fascinated by the occult and metaphysical realities -- gets involved with the Temple of the Lamb. A daring and spirited soul, Nathan is always searching for answers, trying to look beyond what's instantly visible, experimenting, opening himself to the supernatural. Jane's extraordinary talents seem to have only deepened his curiosity for the otherwordly things. Now, Jane Silverlake, one of Nathan's closest friends, takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of his disappearance and - hopefully - get him back. Driven by love and guilt, armed with sharp intelligence and unnatural talents, Jane will not rest until she finds her dear friend. And soon she'll realize that she might be the only person in the world who can achieve that.

The story starts off rather slow and at first nothing suggests that The White Forest is anything more than a good historical novel. That, however, changes within the first few chapters, as we learn more about Jane and her unnatural abilities, as well as the mysterious Ariston Day and his dangerous cult. The tension -- while practically non-existent at the beginning - slowly but steadily builds up to an almost heart-stopping crescendo of panic at the end. At first, I had some trouble getting used to the snail-like pace of the story, but don't let that fool you! It is not a slow-paced novel all the way through. You'll be surprised at how fast you'll be flipping the pages in the second half of it!

The story flow is very gentle, almost dream-like. It allows the reader to fully immerse themselves in the plot and enjoy all the fabulously depicted visuals. I was amazed at how descriptive the prose was. Adam McOmber's writing style doesn't strike a single awkward note; it's sensual, mesmerizing, perceptive, and it engages not only your imagination, but also your senses. You can practically hear the soft rustling sound of leaves in the wind and you can feel the morning fog wrapping its cold, sticky arms around you. And, while the novel's pacing might feel just a tiny bit slow at the begging, the intensity of the gothic world will not make you bored or impatient.

Adam McOmber places heavy emphasis on atmosphere, using eerie settings and rich but concise prose to build suspense and a sense of disquiet in the reader. The plot is build around a mystery of Nathan's disappearance, pervaded by the feeling of threat and unease, enhanced by the unknown. Unexplainable things are happening all throughout the story. There are omens, ghostly apparitions, disturbing dream visions and seemingly prophetic phenomenons haunting the main character, Jane. The story is full of dramatic events, insightful flash-backs (that -- while very important to the plot -- more often than not raise more questions than they answer), and emotional, almost too-intimate-to-witness moments between the characters.

I loved the gentle but lustful prose. McOmber's vocabulary is rich and appropriate for the time period. It helps set the mood and creates an unforgettable, dark atmosphere that defines the gothic. The first-person narrative is dynamic, stimulating and engaging, and I found it nearly impossible to put the book down. At the same time, though, it is quite a demanding read that requires 100% of your attention. If you lose your focus, or try to skip a passage here and there, you'll find yourself going back to re-read certain parts in order to fully understand what's happening. This is, after all, an adult novel, and one that is not only thrilling and beautifully written, but also quite fascinating thanks to all the historical details it offers. I was especially excited to see the famous French detective, Vidocq, be part of the plot. His character added a realistic touch to the story, as well as a whole new different kind of threat to the well-being of our characters.

All in all, The White Forest is a fabulous, richly imagined read, and one that is bound to make a huge impression on readers. If you loved Kenneth Oppel's This Dark Endeavor and Such Wicked Intent, you'll definitely enjoy devouring this book, too. It's a real treat for fans of anything dark, sinister, eerie and gothic.
Profile Image for Christina (A Reader of Fictions).
4,230 reviews1,653 followers
September 9, 2012
Originally reviewed on A Reader of Fictions.

The White Forest was not what I was expecting at all. Perhaps I should have been, but I tend not to read blurbs at all or not closely, because they sometimes contain spoilers. Anyway, I thought this was going to be a gorgeous novel of historical fiction, and it certainly starts out that way. Then it changes into fantasy horror, so be prepared for that.

The writing of The White Forest is lush, dark and gothic. I very much appreciate McOmber's style and use of language, even when the story went down paths I wasn't entirely thrilled about. Though the book does not have much action, the story moves along at a nice steady pace, jumping from the present to the past, as we unravel the mystery of what happened to Nathan Ashe.

The opening chapters focus on a friendship, that of Jane, Maddy and Nathan. The three of them formed an unlikely bond, one frowned upon by the rest of society. Two girls and a boy should not be so close, others felt, suspecting something unsavory. Jane, Maddy and Nathan could not care less about the opinions of others. Maddy and Nathan are both beautiful, meant perhaps for better things and company. Jane, so plain and boring and unworldly, feels so lucky every day to be important to them. She doesn't want anything to change between them ever.

Changes, of course, cannot be avoided as they grow older. Both Maddy and Jane struggle with an attraction to Nathan, and the jealousy of not knowing where his affections lie. Maddy especially felt jealous, hating Nathan's interest in Jane's supernatural powers. Nathan, on the other hand, has been tempted away from them by a cult led by the mysterious Ariston Day. Maddy desperately wants him out of the cult, justifiably, but to no avail. Then he disappears.

Jane's power initially seemed to me a sort of curiosity, but it's not; it is, in fact, the whole point, which I felt stupid for not figuring out sooner. Jane can see and her the souls of objects, this whole other world the rest of us have no sense of. By touching another person, she can let them see this as well, in a process she calls transference. Carrying flowers helps minimize the effect, so Jane stays flower-bedecked.

Her power, which she deems a curse, is of great interest to others, who ascribe many disparate meanings to it. Many, including Maddy, think this is a sign of witchery, that Jane has been touched by the devil. Others believe Jane and her powers can lead the way to paradise. Jane's mother, strange herself, says that Jane is the daughter of a tree. This basic concept of Jane's power wowed me. The cult, convinced of Jane's divinity, too, was a horrifyingly creepy and awesome element.

Unfortunately, as the book became completely fantasy, the story got a bit weird for me, likely especially so because I was not expecting the book to go there. The way everything turned out just seemed overly strange to me, especially the white apes and everything at the end. I love fantasy, but this world just did not ring out to me. This part reminded me strongly of H.G. Wells or H.P. Lovecraft, and their classic fantasy and horror. If you like their stories, I suspect you will enjoy this aspect much more than I did. I, however, found it too crazy, and read on in disbelief, no longer especially interested in the characters, though still entertained by the pretty writing.

Personally, I would have preferred if the book stayed historical fiction. However, if you like dark, creepy fantasy, The White Forest just might rock your socks off.
Profile Image for Christy B.
342 reviews198 followers
September 12, 2012
I love historical fantasy (that doesn't have vampires, zombies, and werewolves) and The White Forest was a perfect example of historical fantasy done right. We get the feel of the time period, but with an added mystical atmosphere.

The specific date the story takes place in is never mentioned, but it takes place after the Crimean War. The story revolves around Jane Silverlake, who has a gift, a gift I don't want to even begin to explain because I'll just ruin it. Jane is friends with Maddy and Nathan, forming a sort of trio. When Nathan comes back from the war, he's a different man, and soon joins a cult which causes him to fall farther and farther away from his old life. One day, Nathan goes missing, and Jane must learn everything there is about her gift if she wants to help bring him back.

The descriptions of a dark and gritty Victorian London are told with such flowing prose. I got lost in the words and the pages just flew by. The characters were just great – well written and deep, even the side characters. The villain of the story, Ariston Day, the leader of the cult, was such a perfect villain. He was a villain who used his words to brainwash people, and brilliantly enough, we only see him for about two scenes, but by the time we meet him, we've already formed a determined opinion of him. His reputation proceeded him, so to speak.

A fantastically told story, and at some points it reminded me of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Very unusual, but in a good way.
Profile Image for Sanaa.
413 reviews2,553 followers
August 25, 2015
[5 Stars] I need more time to formulate my opinion about this book. I absolutely lived the writing, its originality, the dark Gothic tone, the Victorian and slightly steampunk setting, the vivid somewhat dense descriptions, the imperfect flawed and at times cruel characters. Then again, this left me hungry for something more, to be further convinced... Regardless I loved this and would give it 4.5 stars, may be even 5 stars. It was exactly the kind of book I like to read.

I've decided this deserves a 5 star rating from me. I had a few issues with it, yes, but I loved the experience of reading the White Forest. It reminded me in a way of Angela Carter, and this book resonated with me in some way, in a way which negates my problems with the book and firmly places it with a 5 star rating. Simply put, I loved reading this book.
Profile Image for Tomoe Hotaru.
248 reviews850 followers
October 3, 2012
Bizarre, is one word I would use to describe The White Forest by Adam McOmber; but not necessarily is that a bad thing. Our tale starts off on a mysterious air, quite normal enough, in a Victorian England. The imagery and mood built by the narrative is both vivid and captivating, promising us with a mystery to unravel; a crime to solve, secrets to unveil.

And then, towards the end of the novel, the world of Jane Silverlake took a tumble into a rabbit hole of her own - spiraling deeper and deeper until we find ourselves in a world both abstract and physical, both tangible and nonsensical. Our Victorian England was gone, our historical fiction turned madly into a perplexing novel of fantasy.


What pushes us through the novel at first, apart from the mystery of Nathan Ashe's disappearance, was questions regarding Jane's odd power. What is it, exactly, that she can do, and why does she have it? Who is this Lady of Flowers who continuously makes a cameo every now and then, and where does she fit, in the greater scheme of things?

Most of what prevented me from giving this a higher rating , was how we knew from early on what had happened to Nathan Ashe. Perhaps the real question was how it happened to him in the first place. But when our heroine, Jane Silverlake spent so much time stuck on the first question, it does get tiring after a while. I despise sudden loss of memory used as an excuse to drag a mystery further; used as justification for keeping important facts from us readers. This trope, to my frustration, has also been used in other novels, which I would otherwise have enjoyed far more without.

Luckily, my quarrels end there. Although the Fetches' sudden lapse in human decency was a little odd, I find charismatic leaders, especially cult leaders, often know just the right buttons to push. That, along with a mixture of deindividuation, may serve as a plausible - if a little strained - explanation for the sudden change in his followers' mindsets. And the details of the cult made it intriguing, to say the least. It added a touch of perceptible danger to our otherwise imagined horrors, and for a moment we question the possibility of Nathan's misfortune being of a more mundane, murder-mystery nature, or the event of a satanistic ritual.

As far as characters go, I have to say that Jane Silverlake is a better person than I would ever be. If I had been in her position -- if I had the boy I've grown to love break my heart, or see what my own best friend has done, I would have washed my hands clean of them.
If my own dearest friend said to me the awful things Maddy, in her fit, said to Jane -- and seeing how the reality fits perfectly into her words -- I would have let her wallow in her own grief and that would be the end of that. I certainly would have not gone through the pains of helping either one of them, in the end.
The truth of the matter is, Jane had the misfortune of having terrible friends . It was painfully clear Nathan saw her as something different; something extraordinary in his otherwise mundane life. It was clear that he viewed her as some form of entertainment.
And as for Maddy. Well, all I can say is, you're not really friends if the reason you're together is the lack of options. I am utterly confused, in the end, that Jane's humanity is what ultimately pushes her to save everyone. A humanity that she's learnt through her friendship, apparently. What sort of friendship is that? I ask myself. It certainly wouldn't have taught me anything other than the bitter cruelty of human nature.

I liked how Jane grew stronger along with her journey. Even though I didn't quite enjoy the turn the novel took, as it dove into a realm of fantasy, I was drawn into the tale -- the landscape of Hampstead Heath, the furtive jealousy and rivalry between supposed best friends. All in all it was a pleasant and quick read, one I recommend for fans of a Victorian setting and a touch of the surreal.

Profile Image for Jackleen.
250 reviews
December 3, 2012
We all go through these fazes where we just feel we can not find anything good to read. This last month that is where I have been at, in book doldrums. So, just to put it in perspective, I crave good plots and interesting characters like a diabetic looking for the next hit of sugar. And, it has been a bit thin on the ground lately, sweet wize. I went back to old tried and true favourites, but, it is not the same - no new surprises, that novelty that thrills and has you stand up at the end and say wow, I never saw that coming... Last week, I was in a book store starting my Christmas shopping, when I came across The White Forest, hard cover not on sale, so in my normal mood a non purchase. But, it is a Victorian Gothic (and has a really good picture on the front, I know shallow;) and, I think could this be the book to break the trend. And, let me repeat Victorian Gothic; I could feel those creepy chills just looking at the cover. So, of course, it came home with me.

Was it the trend breaking book? Yes and No.

First, to be up front:
The White forest was a well written book with good characters, a well thought out plot and a very interesting premise. Throw in some supernatural phenomenon, a love triangle, a mysterious disappearance, philosophical issues with religions and what passes for religion vs cult, with excellent, if quiet, symbolism, this is a book capable of being read on many levels, and, that could promote many interesting discussions. In short, The White Forest is a very clever book. But, most importantly, I did enjoy it very much once I got past one very important hurdle.

This is the No part:
This is not what I would have considered a Victorian Gothic, this is what I would call a fantasy set in Victorian England. Is this a problem, you might ask? Because, I am clearly a fan of fantasy as my library will attest. In fact, my all time favourite books would fall into the fantasy category. So where is the problem? Well, I was primed to read a creepy Victorian Gothic, and, I got something else. Disappointed, but, brought around by a good story. However, I would have liked it more if from the outset it was promoted as a fantasy. There is nothing worse than unfulfilled book expectations.

To prepare for this book review, I looked up the word Gothic to further emphasize my points. As it turns out The White Forest is possibly the most Gothic book I have ever read, combining horror, romance, mystery, tragic heroines, and, parody. So, technically, book right; Jackleen wrong.

This review comes down to what I feel about the book. Because this book lacked my favourite element of the Victorian Gothic- I must add what I thought constituted a Victorian Gothic- the all important spine tingling creepiness. For that reason The White Forest is a 4 star rather than a 5 star book. And, creepy is not horror, different animals all together. It is like a beautifully decorated cake made with less than the required sugar, good, you understand and appreciate it structurely, but, missing the sweetness. And, in the end, when eating cake or reading books, it is how it makes you feel, no matter how intellectually pleasing.

July 31, 2014
I just bought my copy on amazon. So when Sarah and I buddy read this, I have a copy no matter what.

Edit: Where to begin to describe this book?

The characters were flawed but believable. I didn't feel like punching anyone, but there were some unlikeable characters but you were supposed to hate them.

There was a love story but it didn't feel like it took over the plot, but it was a big part of the plot. The most important theme was friendship when it came to the dynamics between the three main characters.

There were homosexual characters, but I doubt the accuracy of portrayal of acceptance at that time, but at the same time it seems believable for the most part. It was a secret but everybody knew.

You have no idea how happy it makes me feel to have gay characters as supporting characters in fiction, and not have them be the stereotypical gay bff.

The prose was amazing. I loved the gothic Victorian atmosphere. It read like a Charlotte Bronte novel, and was more entertaining than Jane Austen (sorry! She bores me).

The mystery and the horror elements were build up slowly. The ending was definitely intense and I wasn't quite expecting it.

I enjoyed this book very much.

Profile Image for TheBookSmugglers.
669 reviews1,984 followers
September 14, 2012
Originally reviewed on The Book Smugglers

Jane Silverlake has always been a strange and aloof child, growing up in the isolated, deteriorating Hampstead Heath outside of London. Following her mother's strange death, Jane has discovered she possesses a unique ability - she can perceive the souls of manmade objects, sensing their auras and resonant sounds and colors. Even more, Jane can transfer this experience through physical contact, an ability that she both relishes (especially to exact revenge on a particularly disapproving servant) and fears. Because of her uncanny ability, and because of her father's withdrawal from Society following the death of his wife, Jane has grown up an isolated girl, floating from room to room of Hampstead Heath like a wraith.

But, one day, Jane meets Madeline Lee, whose family leaves London after a scandal involving her father's risque art. A vivacious, beautiful young lady, Maddy is everything that Jane is not, and soon Jane finds herself beneath Maddy's wing. With Maddy comes young Lord Nathan Ashe - beautiful, charismatic, and like so many of Society's elite, fascinated with the realm of the spirit. For years, Jane Silverlake, Madeline Lee and Nathan Ashe are inseparable, but their relationship begins to change as Jane finally divulges her unique talent, and Nathan grows increasingly obsessed with Jane while Maddy grows increasingly uncomfortable, even jealous, of Nathan's attentions.

This careful balance of friendship comes crashing down when Nathan leaves to fight in the Crimean War, and returns at the War's end a changed man. Soon, Nathan falls under the spell of Ariston Day - leader of one of London's most dangerous and feared cults, fixated on the discovery of a higher realm known as the Empyrean. Nathan has long believed that Jane is the doorway to the Empyrean, and the key to crossing the realm of the physical to that of the spiritual - a belief he divulges to Ariston Day. When Nathan suddenly, inexplicably disappears, it is up to Jane to wield the full brunt of her power to bring Nathan back and repair the fragile relationship between her friends, before Day and his followers can unleash their own sinister plan to unleash the Empyrean and its terrifying implications on London.

The debut novel from accomplished and prolific short fiction writer Adam McOmber, The White Forest is a dark Victorian fantasy novel that has been proudly compared (by the publisher) to Erin Morgenstern's wildly successful The Night Circus and praised by the likes of Keith Donoghue (The Stolen Child) and Daniel Wallace (Big Fish). While The White Forest has basically nothing in common with The Night Circus, the praise from Donoghue and Wallace is well-earned - McOmber's imagery and the mythology behind the titular White Forest are beautifully drawn, and this is an unexpected novel full of dark twists and turns. And, for the most part, I enjoyed The White Forest thanks to this imaginative scope.

The most impressive thing about The White Forest, to me, lies with the unexpected quality of the story's telling. Though the novel begins in a fashion reminiscent of many a Victorian yarn and focuses on the precipitous friendship between Jane, Maddy and Nathan, it gradually becomes something other, shifting to the darker recesses of fantasy and horror and reveling in the surreal. I loved the idea of Jane's power (and that of her mother before her, or the others before them), especially in how unknown its implications are, even to Jane. When she first discovers her ability, she is caught up in its promise and power until it threatens to overtake her completely. I appreciate the struggle within as Jane becomes aware of the White Forest at the edge of her power and all it represents. The truth of Jane's nature unfolds slowly over the course of the book, tantalizingly so, and span Jane's own experiences to Nathan's private research, lending an air of mystery to an otherwise very slow moving text, which I also appreciated. When all is revealed in the novel's surreal, frenzied finale the payoff is almost worth the wait.

From a character perspective, I truly appreciate how deeply flawed Jane, Maddy and Nathan are, and the tension that defines the relationships between them. Madeline loves the beautiful Nathan, and as a beautiful cultured young lady (albeit one from a fallen family), her jealousy of Jane as the object of Nathan's obsession is palpable, her barbs glossed over by Jane but noted by the reader. Easily, Maddy's conflicted character is my favorite of the bunch - but Madeline is not our narrator. Jane, on the other hand, is at first glance unassuming, quiet, and secretive - insecure with her standing with her friends, but with a steely strength underyling her character. I appreciated, too, Jane's less likable qualities - her cruelty towards her servants, are cringeworthy but feel genuine to Jane's character. In contrast to these female leads, Nathan is a foil romanticized by both Jane and Maddy. Nathan's obsession consumes him, and his disregard for others has ruinous consequences. Suffice it to say, not a one of these characters is truly likable, but they all resonate and feel very real.

These praises said, there are some issues particular to period and authenticity that niggle and prevented me from truly becoming immersed in this novel. Regarding time period, we are never given a firm date in the text (the opening lines of the book site "18--" as the year), but we do know that this is during/immediately after the Crimean War (as Nathan fought in the war), therefore must be in the range of 1853-1856, or shortly thereafter. However, the Crystal Palace (home of the Great Exhibition) plays a prominent role in this novel, and Jane narrates that the palace had just opened its doors in May and that it is situated in Hyde Park. By the power of the google (and the wikipedia), this is impossible - the Great Exhibition took place in 1851 (and given that the palace opened its doors in May, this must mean the start of the Great Exhibition). Additionally, the Crystal Palace was moved after the Great Exhibition from Hyde Park to Sydenham Hill in 1854. So then, how, I ask, are Jane and Maddy going to the opening of Palace to the public (1851), POST-Crimean War (1856), in Hyde Park?[1. There is an Author's Note following the text of my ARC in which McOmber states he decided to keep the Palace in Hyde Park for this book even though it was moved to Sydenham Hill - however, there are still problems with the Crimean War timeline.] In the grand scheme of things, this isn't a huge deal - but it bothers me, especially considering that this is a historical fiction novel, and that it takes a few minutes of basic internet research to get a timeline straight.

Beyond this admitted pet peeve, there are other things that bothered regarding time period and authenticity. Certain modern phrases and idioms are strewn throughout The White Forest, breaking the spell of the Victorian era setting and jarring the reading experience. For example, during Jane and Maddy's trip to the Crystal Palace:
Maddy laughed lightly. "That would be Jane's fault, Miss Ulster. She's pursued by vengeful spirits. The feeling will go away once you've left her presence, much like indigestion dissipates when the offending meal has been passed."

Judith enjoyed this bit of toilet humor made at my expense, enough to forget her temporarily haunted bow. "Call me Judith, and Jane doesn't look anything like a piece of meat gone bad."

Now, while the flushing toilet was invented at this time and the first public bathrooms installed at the Great Exhibition, the very modern sensibility of "toilet humor" - used by a girl that has grown up completely isolated outside of London, no less - is not a phrase one would use in 1851/6. In fact, toilet would have an entirely DIFFERNT meaning during this time period, corresponding with one's grooming/dressing habit or ablutions (not a water closet, or lavatory).

Then there are other little things like:
We found Nathan there pacing. "I'll never know what the two of you get up to in that bedroom," he said.

"Jane and I had to make hasty love," Maddy replied. "We can't seem to get enough of one another."

Nathan grinned at this. "Yes, well, I hope you've satisfied yourselves. It's a long trip to Piccadilly."

The phrase "making love" in reference to sex (as it is here) is also a very modern notion from the 1950s onward. "Making love" in the mid 19th century would have a completely different connotation at this point in time - as in, wooing, not intercourse.

These details are simple details, but it's incredibly distracting and kept pulling me out of the story. If you are anything like me, you might have similar issues.

Ultimately, I ended up enjoying The White Forest and can happily recommend it, but with some noted reservations.
Profile Image for Heidi.
1,395 reviews153 followers
September 10, 2012
Three Stars: A unique gothic read that will have you thinking outside of the box.

Jane has led a solitary life since her mother passed away when she was six.  She spends her days hiding in the shadows, listening to everything around her.  Jane has a unique gift.  She has the ability to hear and feel inanimate objects. Everything has its own distinct voice.  The house servants are frightened of Jane and accuse her of devilry.  Her father is lost in his own grief, he loves her but fails to see her.  Jane's world changes with the arrival of Maddie when she is fifteen.  Maddie and her family take up residency not far from Jane's manor after Maddie's father is run out of  London for his revealing daguerreotypes.  Maddie, a girl of privilege, now must entertain herself in the country.  Maddie and Jane immediately become fast friends, and soon there is a third party to their group, Nathan, another wealthy boy in the vicinity.  The three become inseparable.  They spend hours walking on the Heath, talking and sharing secrets. It is a comfortable three sided friendship, unconventional but it works.  That is until Jane shares her strange ability with her friends.  Nathan is fascinated and insists on experimenting with her talent as Jane can transfer what she sees and hears to another person by touch.  What was once a tight friendship falters as Jane's ability causes Maddie distress.  Nathan is obsessed with Jane's gift and feelings of jealousy between the girls surfaces.  Jane's talent begins to evolve and soon the trio is forever altered with the troubling disappearance of Nathan.  Can the girls find Nathan? 

What I Liked:
*The White Forest is one of those rare books that burrows into your head and causes you to question how you perceive the known world and reality.  It is unexpected in that is provides some amazing and complicated ideas that will astound you and leave you pondering over them for days.  Nothing in this book is simple and straightforward.  Mr. McOmber presents a complex plot with concepts that are unique and unlike anything I have encountered.  If you like deep, challenging reads this one is for you. 
* I was fascinated by the new ideas that I found in this book.  Jane's amazing talent that allowed her to see and feel all the objects of the world as each material item has a soul.  I liked fathoming this original concept.  Along with Jane's ability, there are some other thought provoking ideas such as the White Forest, an alternate reality that exists alongside our reality separated by a thin membrane.  The White Forest is the antithesis of the known world, it is the nothingness, the opposite of creation.  The guardian of this realm is the Lady of the Flowers.  She stands in opposite to creation, she is silent, she is nothing.  If this seems difficult to comprehend, believe me it is a lot to take in and understand.  It is truly mind boggling.
* I admired that Mr. McOmber was able to tell this story through Jane.  It is not often that you find a male author writing a female perspective.  Sometimes it doesn't always execute well.  Needless to say, in The White Forest it is done brilliantly.  I never once felt like the the narrative was inaccurate or written by a man.  The writing is detailed down to discussions on skirts and dresses.  Mr. McOmber is indeed talented! 
* I enjoyed that this book presents a friendship between two girls and a boy.  It is a complicated arrangement and with relationships between the opposite sexes and three people, it is just a matter of time before conflict arises.  What was once a pleasant camaraderie begins to fracture when cracks of jealousy splinter through.  Both girls develop affections for Nathan, while he in turn has strong feelings for each girl in return, wavering between them.  Now before you get that icky love triangle thought, I assure you this book does not move into that territory.  On the surface, the friendship remains in tact and the feelings are an underlying current, never expressed aloud until after Nathan's disappearance.  In fact, this book for the most part is without a romance.  There are shades of attraction and hints, but nothing solid.  
* This book starts with the disappearance of Nathan and the strange circumstances leading up to it.  The story follows the girls as they attempt to unravel what happened to him.  The mystery is deep and multilayered.  Maddie and Jane while trying to find Nathan end up attempting to infiltrate a cult let by a corrupt, egotistical con man named Ariston Day, who is attempting to manipulate dreams and find alternate realities.  In addition to the cult and the disappearance, the reader is presented with all the strange abilities that Jane possesses and how they ultimately fit into the overall picture.  This is a complex plot!
* I appreciated that everything resolves and ties off neatly at the end as this appears to be a stand alone book.  I can't tell you how nice it is to read a book and reach a satisfying ending.  Granted, the resolution was head scratching, and I can't say I have a complete grasp on everything, again because this is a complicated book with mind boggling ideas, but at the end I found all the answers.

And The Not So Much:
* This book moves at a steady rhythmic pace.  It is not action packed or particularly thrilling, yet it is interesting.  Some readers may become frustrated with the deliberate progression and deep ideas.  If you go into this expecting a typical Gothic book, be warned this is nothing like you expect.
* Overall, this book is a dark, shadowy read.  Jane is a complex character and at her core she is not very like-able.  I especially detested the way she treated her maid, Sarah. She is cruel to Sarah and frightens her with her ability.  Maddie is selfish and a bit shallow, and Nathan is obsessed, manipulative and easily swayed into a cult.  I found myself clutching at any bit of goodness in the characters, hoping I would grow to like them, but alas, they are cold, and I did not relate or care about any of them.  The only character I felt a glimmer of feeling toward was Pascal, a young starving artist who loses his lover, Alexander to the cult.  It is difficult to fall in love with a book when you don't care about the characters.  There were qualities I admired about Jane, but overall I did not feel compassion toward her.
* This book jumps around.  It shifts from present day to memories of the past and even incorporates a journal.  Sometimes it was a bit confusing with the switches in time.  Especially since it does not follow a straightforward sequence.
* As I mentioned earlier, this book presents some heavy and complicated ideas.  I can't honestly say that I have a complete grasp on everything presented and it is a book that I will likely read again at a future date to gain a better understanding. 

The White Forest is one of those books that will stick with me for a long time to come.  It is a book that presents layers of complex ideas.  It is unexpected and unlike anything I have read before.  If you like books that will draw you outside your normal reading comfort zone and cause you to think outside the box, you should try this book.  My head is still buzzing from this read! 

Favorite Quotations:
“There is no real human mind, is there, Miss Silverlake? There are only a variety of shifting phantasms.”

“If Nathan ever chose one of us, the fantasy would be broken.  Flood waters would rise.”

“Evelyn Silverlake’s death was unnatural, to be sure.  It was as though she faltered.  Like she could no longer hold her place in the world.  And so she closed her eyes and looked at us no longer.  She gazed instead at that place she was meant for.”

“But those old days were past; we walked in the tatters of our own history.”

“My mother had a whole litter of children with which to contend.  At every chance, we attempted to squirm loose from the pile.  From time to time, we did escape, and we experienced reality without the filter of our parentage.”

A big thanks to Simon and Schuster Publishing for the review copy .
Posted originally@Rainy Day Ramblings
Profile Image for Renee.
Author 1 book13 followers
February 1, 2016
The White Forest plunges the reader into the aftermath of the disappearance of one Nathan Ashe, a high society youth, and the two women who love him - Maddy, a debutante with a family in disgrace, and Jane Silverlake, a main character harboring the supernatural ability to sense the souls of objects. Nathan is fascinated by Jane's abilities, and, convinced she is the key to some cosmic mystery, presses her to include him in ever greater experiments to see where her power leads. But Jane has no idea of the source of her abilities, nor what they mean. Nathan turns to a dangerous cult led by an even more dangerous leader for answers, and disappears. Maddy and Jane search for Nathan, wading into ever more perilous waters and learning more about the truth concerning Jane's powers.
My responses to The White Forest felt oddly like I was reading two separate books. For the first half, I was not enthused in the slightest. It was not so much that The White Forest was not a good plot, but more that I could not seem to immerse myself in the writing. The first half of the novel depended heavily on flashbacks introduced merely with Jane mentally moving from aspect of the present that would remind her of some key events that occurred prior to the novel's beginning. The constant interruption was not conducive to sinking into the world McComber presented. The disjointed feeling grew, and I soon found that every little thing could derail the flow of the book - I felt myself becoming distracted quite often. At one point, the author used the phrase "cemetery gates," and I couldn't stop myself from singing the lyrics of the song by Pantera. I simply was not engaged by the story, which is strange because the concept of the novel is so different and enticing. I also found myself having an extremely hard time relating to any of the three main characters. Jane was cold, Maddy seemed to wear a constant mask, and Nathan...well, I simply thought he was a twit. A slightly tool-like twit.

And then The White Forest hit the halfway point, and it was as though another book had sprung up in its place. Perhaps it was reconciling myself with the fact that Jane was not a very sympathetic main character, perhaps it had to do with the cracks in Maddy's exterior falling apart, or perhaps it was an upswing in the pacing an action, but I found myself truly looking forward to the prospect of reading. Suddenly, Jane's secret moved from something to experiment with to something to use. The relationships between Maddy, Nathan, and Jane became more complex and nuanced. Sympathizing with Jane was less of a herculean task. I cared about the characters, and what became of them. The plot was suddenly quite stimulating, and I devoured the last quarter of the book in a single setting.

The vast difference in my reaction to the first and second half of the book make a review of this novel exceedingly difficult. If you enjoy a very slow build with characters who are not relatable before a sudden burst of action, this is the perfect book for you. If sticking it out for nearly two-hundred pages before being able to sink lovingly into the pages of a novel is just a bit too long of a wait, you may want to give this one a pass. For myself, I will not write off McOmber in the future. I was so completely entranced by the second half of The White Forest it has to bode well for future books he writes.

Read the full set of Dueling Librarians reviews for The White Forest.
Profile Image for All Things Urban Fantasy.
1,921 reviews614 followers
October 18, 2012
Fantastical and haunting, from the start THE WHITE FOREST had me glued to the page. I couldn’t tell if our narrator was out of JANE EYRE or THE TELL-TALE HEART, but Jane’s measured description of her strange world had me captivated. Jane is a contradictory mix of petty emotion and open-hearted loneliness, making her both grateful and jealous of the attention of her friends. Even more intriguing, her otherworldly gift seems simultaneously dangerous and innocuous, linked both to her mother’s death and the meaningless colors and sounds the souls of man-made objects project to her.

Though many elements of THE WHITE FOREST remind me of other books and movies that I’ve enjoyed (THE HISTORIAN and Pan’s Labyrinth to name two), Jane herself is a singular experience. Other characters in THE WHITE FOREST comment on her strange charisma, how she isn’t as plain as they first thought. This never comes across as the romance trope of a plain heroine who doesn’t realize how beautiful she is, or only where only her true love sees her inner beauty. Rather, even on the written page Jane seems both muted and mesmerizing. Her narration is almost deadpan, but the circumstances of her story reveal very strong emotions. I can’t even say that I liked her, and certainly much of her actions aren’t admirable in the typical “heart of gold” sense. She can be cruel, she feels the seduction of wielding power over others, and her attachment to Maddie and Nathan is almost smothering. At the halfway point I couldn’t see any happily ever after for Jane, or even predict where this story’s strange magic would take me, but I didn’t need either of those things to keep me riveted to the page.

The mystery of THE WHITE FOREST unfolds on so many different levels. In the present moment, Jane’s friend Nathan is missing. Below that lurks the secret of Jane’s gift and how it relates to both Nathan’s disappearance and Jane’s future. And then deeper still, simmering in the background is the complex alchemy of these relationships; Jane and Maddie and Nathan meshed together in friendship, jealousy, and attraction. I could never tell if the cynical way Jane views her value to Maddie and Nathan was realistic or not, and that tension as much as any other kept me reading for clues.

THE WHITE FOREST isn’t the usual thrilling, sexy urban fantasy, or anything close to steampunk, but I love it all the more for being something out of the norm for me. Jane manages to be magnetic and fascinating without being charming. She drew me into the mystery of her circumstances without becoming predictable and the pathos of the story is one of foreboding and dread without ever dipping into melodrama or horror. As the story spirals further and further outside human experience, I found myself no less affected. A captivating ghost story, a gothic to savor, I enjoyed slowing down and immersing myself in this strange, dark world.

Sexual Content: Kissing, references to sex.
Profile Image for Erin.
213 reviews37 followers
September 8, 2012
I have mixed feelings about this book ~ it left me in a weird mood, kind of depressed and grouchy and blank. The imagery is cold and frigid, not of this earth. I kept picturing the landscape like one that had the life sucked out of it and all that was left was a white husk.

The story is told from the point of view of Jane Silverlake - a plain girl who sounds like she has an ethereal beauty, white skin and gray eyes. She is not a nice person, not really. She torments her maid, and her feelings for her friends, Maddy and Nathan, are excessive bordering on obsessive. I think the story being told from her viewpoint is one reason the book is so cold ~ Jane is not that warm of a person. She is isolated and removed and detached from the world, with the exception of her friends. And even that is a little messed up ~ she wants all their attention, Maddy's and Nathan's, and doesn't seem to even want to share them with each other.

Jane also has a special talent ~ she can feel the vibrations and colors from man made objects, their souls if they had one. If one were to touch her skin, they would feel this through her. Her power can kill and topple buildings and swallow people up, sending them to a world called the Empyrean. Nathan is obsessed with her power, and wants to feel more and more of it. Nathan and Maddy also have a special relationship, without Jane. This leads to some major issues, and Nathan disappears.

The rest of the book is finding Nathan, and learning more about his interests and Jane's talents. It gets all mystical, with the White Forest, white apes, Ariston Day and his fetches, the Lady of the Flowers and the Empyrean.

I did love the poetic-like writing of this novel ~ it flowed beautifully and evoked haunting images, and the story itself was haunting as well. You really felt transported to another world and time, and the mystery kept your attention.

This book was unexpected ~ it was not like what I thought it would be like at all. Although it was all a surprise, I did find myself liking it, although it was a little weird and cold. I could picture reading in winter, when the world outside was just as white and unearthly.
Profile Image for Georgia.
151 reviews
October 2, 2013
A period piece that crosses into the supernatural which is heavy in description and mood. I have to say, it is very clear that Mr. McOmber has done his homework when it came to the time period and history that he was writing about. Not only that, he obviously studied the language and mannerisms that defined the time. The White Forest is thickly filled with a a usage of words that are nearly dripping in richness and beauty. The beginning of the story pulls you in with a mystery that is both confusing and heartbreaking and you are drawn in wanting to know the truth of events.

Mr. McOmber is careful as he layers answers, giving bits and pieces to the story in small bites. In some cases this works but in others it is a frustrating and slow read. Plodding through the dialogue can become a job and not so enjoyable. It is clear he had a thesaurus and was careful about the words he used, but perhaps he was too careful with it to the sacrifice of the flow of the book. It was not always an easy read.

This is definitely a piece that would make a wonderful Masterpiece Theater series. The pacing worked for a long term situation. Without spoilers, I have to say, after the long read and the very detailed fantasy and mythology he created, it developed into something a bit confusing and grand and then felt like it fell apart, as if he didn't really know what to do with it all. It was like a tornado that suddenly poofed into nothing, which left me frustrated for having invested the time and following the tale he had unraveled for me.

The greater picture, it was lovely, but as far as a story, I felt that it was a many layered cake that looked absolutely gorgeous, but left me feeling hungry and unsatisfied in the end.
Profile Image for Tara Bilbao.
61 reviews7 followers
September 17, 2012
This book started out as a very intriguing tale and was a bit of a page turner. Unfortunately, I never received the answers that I was looking for within the storyline and many aspects of the plot were not resolved. Frequent allusions to subplots that could have been quite interesting to help the story along and given depth to the characters , were just left adrift and never investigated. The draw of the "fetches" to the cult was never explained thoroughly enough to believe that these young men would leave their cultured former lives for one within the cult. I also could not relate to the ending of the tale, feeling it was too far beyond comprehension to really grasp. The "surprise" of the story was easily guessed and not much of a climax.

Given the favorable reviews of this book, I find it amazing that it has the overall score above 4.
Profile Image for Liza Nahas.
418 reviews29 followers
August 23, 2012

Great gothic read, beautiful vocabulary, lush settings, intriguing characters. Reminds me of Great & Terrible Beauty and The Night Circus.
Profile Image for Itasca Community Library.
525 reviews23 followers
December 29, 2021
Simon says:
Slow-paced and swimming in atmosphere, McOmber’s book encompasses many genres (gothic and cosmic horror, weird fiction, bodice buster), and expertly blends them all. The unfolding of the narrative’s supernatural events is patient and creeping, with the scares tiptoeing up behind you. The story is simple; Jane Silverlake can feel and sometimes see the souls of inanimate objects, a secret she shares with her two upper-crust buddies, Nathan and Maddy. Nathan becomes obsessed with Jane’s gift, causing a rift in the trio and setting off a series of unsettling events. From here, McOmber explores classism, environmentalism, Paganism, Gnosticism, and a bunch of other fun –isms. Plus, a scandalous love triangle and a frightening cult thrown in for good measure. A thoughtful, unique, and thoroughly strange reading experience.
Profile Image for Horror DNA.
1,094 reviews95 followers
July 26, 2019
I'll admit that when I first started reading The White Forest, I simply couldn't get into it. If this book hadn't been assigned to me, I would have likely set it down and never finished it. I was glad I forced myself to read it, because it went from boring to amazing so very quickly.

You can read Jennifer's full review at Horror DNA by clicking here.
Profile Image for Bev.
2,904 reviews259 followers
September 19, 2012
I was familiar with the realms of unnatural, for I myself was an unnatural. Not a monster in appearance; I looked like other young women, though perhaps not as primped and manicured. But I wasn't the same as other girls. My friends believed I was sick or gifted. Either way, I was unfortunate. Something entirely new upon the earth. (The White Forest by Adam McOmber)

I don't often do this, but...
Run, don't walk, to your nearest bookshop (or whatever means you have for feeding your reading addiction) and get your hands on this book. Do it now.

Adam McOmber has written an amazing first novel. It's weird and Gothic and lyrical and Victorian and literary and mythic and compelling. If there hadn't been these things called work and sleep, I would have sat down and read it straight through. It is not, however, a comfortable book. The protagonist, Jane Silverlake, isn't a particularly likeable character. Actually, none of the main characters are particularly likeable.

Jane has this odd power--she can hear and see the souls of inanimate, man-made object. The objects around her moan and sing and babble in a cacophony of sound. They shine and glow with colors. And at times she sees a world that does not belong to ours--a white forest that seems almost to be made of paper. She has been isolated for much of her life and when she comes into contact with Madeline and Nathan she doesn't know how to interact with them. She longs to belong and somehow thinks that if she shares her power with Nathan, she'll become closer to him.

Nathan becomes obsessed with her power and wants to experiment with her and what she can do. He isn't really interested in Jane (which is what she wants); he's hoping she can open up the world of Empyrean (or Paradise) for him. His obsession with Empyrean leads him to join a cult led by Ariston Day--a charismatic man who had collected a following of the sons of London's elite. They are all searching for a way to recreate London...and the rest of the world...as a new Paradise.

Madeline is jealous of Jane. She's jealous and afraid of her power. She doesn't like the way Nathan wants to be with Jane to learn more. Her cruelty to Jane and her willingness to hurt and even sacrifice Jane and her powers to rescue Nathan don't exactly recommend her as a bosom friend. But through most of the book, as Jane and Maddie try to find out what happened to Nathan and Jane searches to find out who she is and exactly what her powers represent, Jane clings to what remnants of friendship as she can find.

What initially interested me about the book was the mention of Inspector Vidocq. Regular readers of my blog will know that I am a vintage mystery addict. It intrigued me that Adam was using the actual historical detective in his novel and I was eager to see how that played out. Vidocq is brought in to investigate by Nathan's father when his son disappears. Unfortunately, Vidocq is a rather peripheral character--making few appearances and giving little evidence of being much like what I would expect from "the father of criminal investigation."

It is proof of Adam's skill as a writer that he was able to completely hook me on his story even though I didn't much care for his main characters and his detective wasn't quite what I expected. The mythos behind Jane's powers and the mystery surrounding them were so compelling and intriguing that it really didn't matter that I didn't like her or her friends much. I had to know what was happening. I had to keep reading until the end.

A wonderfully compelling book that, despite it's other-worldly qualities manages to be entirely believable. And perhaps that's due in part to the nature of the main characters. We all know that the world is full of people who may not be likeable, but who have powerful stories and who affect the world in so many ways. Four and a half stars.

First posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting. Thanks.
June 11, 2015
Jane Silverlake is a peculiar girl. Her mother died and her father never got over it; consequently, he neglects her and their family estate in the heath of Victorian England. She barely ever leaves the house until one day, Madeline, a new girl to town rescues her from her misery and befriends her. They even allow a lord's son, Nathan, to accompany them on their daily walks and in turn, the three become fast friends. Jane isn't your normal girl though. She has a gift. She can see into the souls of man-made objects and one day she confesses that she has this gift to Nathan and Maddie. Nathan is instantly intrigued as he has always had an interest in all things supernatural and Maddie is simply annoyed. You see, both girls have a crush on Nathan and vie for his attention, which creates some thick tension between the three now that they are older. Nathan comes back from war feeling very disillusioned and shows an interest in a "spiritual" cult led by a man named Ariston Day. Ariston targets the rich sons of London's upper class and pretty much brainwashes them. Nathan slowly becomes absorbed by Ariston and his cult. Eventually, he goes missing, which practically destroys Jane and Maddie's world. A famous inspector named Vidocq comes to London to figure out what happened to Nathan and things then start to get serious. Jane realizes that many of her secrets may come out before she knows it; however, the two girls will do anything to find Nathan. Adam McOmber's debut, The White Forest, is an engaging tale that adult readers of fantasy and the Gothic genre will appreciate.

Jane is such a strange main character and her gift only makes her that much more unusual. I felt badly for her though; she's such a loner and socially inept. Thankfully, Maddie teaches her a bit about life and attempts to break her out of her shell. Their relationship is complex, but I think that's because of Nathan. As the two girls aged, they both competed for Nathan's attentions and Jane, with her gift, really started to take the spotlight from beautiful Maddie. Nathan was extremely interested in Jane's gift to the point where it became an obsession. But Jane just wanted some special attention from Nathan; she didn't care how she got it, even though sharing her gift might have started to take its toll on Nathan. The love triangle between the three was definitely a bad romance in The White Forest.

The setting of The White Forest definitely adds to the haunting atmosphere of the Gothic story. The heath seems like such an ominous, eerie, cold, and mysterious place. It's the perfect location for McOmber's story and adds to the strangeness of the plot. I wouldn't expect anything less from a Gothic story.

The mystery of what happened to Nathan kept me reading long into the night. I love that Jane took matters into her own hands and tried to get some answers. She challenged the rules of Victorian England and I like that kind of feistiness in my heroine.

I rarely read adult fantasy, but The White Forest was better than I expected. I must admit that I didn't fully understand Jane's gift, but nonetheless, I had an open mind. It reminded me of a story written by Edgar Allan Poe--it was that eerie! In fact, The White Forest is one of the strangest and most unique stories I have EVER read. I kept saying to myself as I was reading it, "This is so weird.....Wow- that's strange," but I never put the book down; I was completely invested in Jane's tale.

If you are looking for a spine-tingling story to read this autumn, The White Forest will really set the mood. It's the perfect read for the start of chilly nights and colder days. It has romance, mystery, betrayal, suspense, violence, and a quirky heroine with supernatural powers. What more could you ask for?
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