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Darkness falls so quickly in Howland that the people there have no word for evening. One minute the sky is light, the next minute it is black. But darkness comes in other forms, too, and for thirteen-year-old Annie, the misery she endures in her Uncle's household makes the black of night seem almost soothing. When Annie escapes, her route takes her first to a dangerous mine where a precious stone is being stolen by an enemy of the king, and later to the king's own halls, where a figure from Annie's past makes a startling appearance. All the while, reported sightings of kinderstalk ― mysterious, wolf-like creatures that prowl Howland's dark forests―grow more frequent. Eloquent, suspenseful, and imbued with fairy-tale motifs found in The Brothers Grimm, this is a riveting coming-of-age story of a girl who must learn to trust her instincts if she's to lead the people she is destined to rule.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published May 12, 2009

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About the author

M.E. Breen

1 book33 followers
M.E. Breen grew up with dogs, cats, newts, turtles, rabbits and rats in the woolly hills of Berkeley, California. She now lives by the ocean in San Francisco.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 187 reviews
Profile Image for Laura.
3,713 reviews95 followers
January 3, 2015
A sort-of selkie tale, set in one of those Countries Gone Bad (evil miners, silly king), orphans, dark woods, and a bunch of other fairy tale tropes combined into one interesting book.

The action sequences were a bit confusing - almost as though they weren't really plotted out on a map but just thrown in as "gee, this sounds good". And the ending left me equally confused: was the prophecy finished? What actually happened to Gibbet? I'm not sure the confusion was meant...

Two things I loved: the character names, and the watch-cats, Izzy and Prudence.
Profile Image for Amber.
121 reviews56 followers
June 21, 2009
In Howland, darkness falls so quick that people there have no word for evening. It's not the darkness that they fear, it's the kinderstalk, creatures that roam the forest killing those that enter it.

Annie is a more adventures twelve year old that lives under her aunt and uncle's care since her parents died. After her sister's death, all she is able to do is just survive there. Until one night she escapes before she is basically sold off. Out on her escape and the journey she now faces, she finds herself at a dangerous mine and later at the king's palace where things from her past suddenly become her future.

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered for Annie to understand everything in her world. The plot itself wasn't too bad. Some of it was pretty predictable. The beginning starts off well, enough to have made me wonder what all was going on, but I felt that it slowed down a little too much for me. The side characters were also enjoyable and I liked reading about the sisters that Annie becomes friends with. By the ending, I'm guessing there is going to be a second book. This is more deemed for a middle school read, but I also think those that enjoy a darker fairy tale might like this one too. All in all it was an okay read, but not one of my favorites.

Profile Image for Miki Garrison.
43 reviews7 followers
March 29, 2010
A lot of the fantasy I've read over the last few years seems to all be drawing from the same pool of ideas -- but definitely not this one! This is an incredibly compelling book.

While it's great watching Annie (the main character) learn more about her world and her family, and about her own strengths, as the book develops, one of the things that made this book so amazingly real is that even the minor characters have a lot of depth to them. No one feels like a cardboard prop in this book!

And while it's a dark fantasy in many ways, there's nothing here that feels dark just for the sake of the drama. And compared to a lot of other books I've read recently, I think the author does a wonderful job of balancing the dark side of this world with the strong and loving connections between the characters.

On top of that, the author does an awesome job of creating a world in which all of the intense twists and turns in the story make sense -- and so the twists take you by surprise, but they still fit well within the story's world. As a result, it's an amazing book that just pulled me straight through to the end. I plan on handing this book off to some friends who have disappointed with the fantasy they've read lately -- I think this book will get them excited again. :D

Profile Image for Ryan.
Author 1 book10 followers
August 18, 2009
Darkwood had all the elements of a great story, but the pieces fit together a bit oddly--not unevenly or jaggedly or anything. It's hard to put a finger on what kept me from enjoying this book about a girl seeking to ... well, maybe that was the problem.

The heroine here, Annie, is fleeing a tyrannical adoptive family and the slave life into which they sought to sell her. She's avoiding the dangerous--though possibly misunderstood--kinderstalk that prowl the dark forests at night. She's searching for a friend, a fellow victim of the slave-labor dealings. And, eventually, she's exploring her own identity, trying to stave off a war between more than one species, and unraveling kingdom-shattering mysteries. It's a lot to handle, but this book doesn't suffer from having too much in it. It isn't overloaded with too many subplots or details. Perhaps the problem lies on the other end of the spectrum.

Several times, I felt like I had missed something and checked to make sure I hadn't accidentally skipped a page or two. But I'd be hard pressed to say exactly what I felt I missed. Everything made sense. I even caught enough clues to figure out the last-act twists and surprises long before they arrived. The somewhat episodic and often foreshadowing action scenes moved along at a fair clip, and there were some truly thrilling chases, but ...

I guess I'm trying to say this book could probably have been longer. I certainly don't need another bloated fantasy epic in my life, but I would have gladly spent more hours in the Darkwood world if it meant the book would be great as opposed to good.
Profile Image for colleen the convivial curmudgeon.
1,155 reviews286 followers
June 13, 2018

I picked this up on a whim at the library because I needed something to read and the cover drew my attention.

First thing I will say is that the books wraps up some things, but also leaves a lot of threads dangling as an obvious set up for a sequel, but this book was released in 2009 and no sequel seems forthcoming. I say this because, honestly, if I'd known that this wasn't a pure standalone and that there never was a follow-up, then I might've passed on this book. So I'm putting that out there up front, for any necessary decision making processes.

That said - the story as a creepy, fairy-tale like quality to it. There are monsters in the woods, and children disappear, but when Annie is forced into the dark, she learns that not everything is as straightforward as it seems.

I think it's creepy enough for the intended audience, but never really gets too scary or anything.

The writing was a bit weird in places. The action and scene changes were awkward and jerky in places, and things kind of skipped sometimes. Also, the dialogue and interactions seemed clunky and awkward. I mean, the interactions just didn't seem natural at all.

But the story was interesting enough, and kept me reading. Like I said, I was a bit annoyed at the end to find that this was clearly set up to continue, but it never did, so there's stuff that's left unresolved. There is enough resolution at the end, though, not to feel entirely left in the air. It wasn't cliffhangery or anything, really - just clearly meant to be continued.
Profile Image for Valerie.
249 reviews74 followers
November 30, 2010
This book has a different world and a strong protagonist called Annie. The premises of the book was interesting-a runaway orphan girl is just trying to keep herself safe and then all of a sudden she has to save the kingdom. That sounds pretty epic if you ask me. Even with a young protagonist and less than 300 pages I figured ‘id be superb and was so excited when I found out my library had it. Which is why I was a little disappointed.

Darkwood did have its epic moments, the world is interesting, and I won't deny the book had a good plot. Howland is fairly similar to other fantasy worlds aside from the fact that night falls almost instantly. The plot has a good pace. Kinderstalk (which we later find out are wolves), imprisonment, escapes, and rescues kept things interesting. No romance for this book which I thought worked perfectly.

What irked me about the book was the ending and it's kind of hard to mention the thing without spoiling outright but I'll say one of the characters does something I think is very bizarre. Annie thinks its unnatural too so even if she is fictional character I think her opinion counts. Also what Annie finds out about herself and her parents is just strange to me. But I'm pretty sure most won't have any qualms about it. This isn't all that bothered me but it's what stood out the most aside from the fact that I couldn't immerse myself in it.

I believe there is going to be a sequel for this book and if there isn't it needs one. I figured after finishing it there would definitely be a sequel, there are a lot of unanswered questions, but with it being over a year and no sign of a second book I don't know.
Profile Image for Kate.
468 reviews79 followers
June 11, 2010
Darkwood is one of those novels that leaves you thinking WOW! There is so much going on in this intriguing debut novel that I am still trying to get my head wrapped around it. The story has an interesting premise featuring a land that suddenly gets dark for no explanation, an orphan trying to survive, and 2 adorable cats. I really enjoyed Annie as a character; however, I felt like the cats were the actual stars of the book.

In addition, I have to give kudos to Breen for the major twist of the novel which includes Annie and her relationship to the kinderstalk. (Did not see that coming.) While this novel was a joy to read, there are so many questions that Breen left unanswered. At this point, it is unclear if there will be a sequel, but I would be interested to learn much more about the world of Darkwood.

Breen has a unique writing style that is witty, engaging, and filled with twists and turns. Despite some minor flaws, this was a very engaging book to read on a rainy afternoon.
21 reviews
December 12, 2017
Personal Response

Personally I really like the book Darkwood. I liked how to book started out with a normal world and developed into a world with Witchcraft and monsters. I also thought it was interesting that Annie- the main protagonist became a hero after once being a poor orphan girl.

Plot Summary

The book starts off with an orphaned girl named Annie who has a horrible life living with her aunt and uncle. The only enjoyment in her life was the books she has read multiple times over and her two cats. Annie had a sister named Paige, but she had mysteriously vanished a few years prior. Then, one day a sharp dressed man comes to visit Annie's uncle, a honest hard working man. Annie was curious as to why a businessman would want her uncle, so she listens in on their conversation. The businessman was proposing to buy Annie, Annie's uncle refuses, until the man slips him a white stone and says,"this is a sample you get the rest when we get the girl." Annie starts to come up with a game plan to set out for her escape. She wakes up very early and sneaks into the cellar to grab some food and she sneaks into her uncle's room and steals the white gem because whatever it is, it had to be valuable. Annie then hears the knocking on the door, so she runs up to her room and waits for her uncle to wake up and get it. He wakes up and opens the door, and it is the same man from before. So Annie jumps out the window and books it to the forest. After she got a considerable distance aways she lights her lantern and keeps walking. Later, her cats catch up to her and they trot ahead and lead Annie to an old tree and they all climb up. Annie follows them and when she gets to the top she sees something that scares her unimaginably. A pack of kinderstalk slowly approach the tree, hissing and barking. The cats show Annie a hollow in the tree large enough for her to stay in for the night. The next morning the kinderstalk are gone, and Annie sets off to a nearby town. When Annie gets there she freeloads as long as she can until she is forced out of town. But, before she left and old lady gives her some medicine and says it is for the body and the heart, and to only use it in an emergency. The lady also says it would be wise to leave the state. So, she sets off to the border to try and escape, but she passes a beautiful farm with plenty of vegetables and fruits on the way. So, she decides to stop for the night, and she picks a few tomatoes and goes to the chicken coop to eat and stay for the night. when she wakes up she is tied up and locked in a cage drawn by a horse. She pretends to be asleep to maybe find some intell. When the cart stops, the man talks to someone and Annie finds out that his name is Chopper. The man opens the cage lets her out and tells her if she runs she will be dead before she knew it. And she is handed off to another man and she teaches her mine the same white stone as her uncle had. After, she was taught she was given a the day off and she would work with the other kids in the night. After, the kids left for work she decided her best option would to run. She ran and ran straight to the palace where she collapsed on the floor, but before she passed out she caught a glimpse of her sister. When she woke up she was told the doctor was her trying to help her and then was given medicine. Later, she was given an audience with the King and to her surprise her sister Paige was with him. Annie explained to the King what was going on with Chopper, his farm, and the mine she was at. After some convincing the King sent some soldiers to the mine to save the kids where they met a few hundred kinder stalk which was lead by the owner of the mine and Annie's uncle. The King's troops prevail, but at the cost of the King.


I would recommend this book to anyone from the age of 12-16. I would recommend this because the book is a little hard to understand if you do not use your imagination, so that is why younger audiences are better for this book. I the book is also written for teens, so it appeals more for teens not adults.
Profile Image for Sierra.
5 reviews4 followers
February 11, 2014
Darkwood an intriguing novel about mystical creatures called Kinderstalk who lurk in the darkest part of the forest, keeping to their own until they meet a Annie Trewitt who becomes solitude from her horrible situation living with her rotten aunt and uncle because of her parent's death. "She looked down at the cats. They were sitting within the ring of the light from her lantern, staring up at her calmly." Breen has a wonderful voice and she words things correctly, to where you can picture the cats sitting in the ring of the lantern. The two cats saved Annie's life and they have a strong alliance, which the author shows their bond together. Throughout the book, I found it unusual for the writer to use big words in a children’s book, which made me wonder what the age range was? Breen was great at articulating ideas for the novel. Darkwood would have to be in the top five of my favorite fiction novels; after I was done reading, I said to myself “Whoa this is an awesome book!” I also thought that the writer had a great plot and was not impromptu. The moral of Darkwood is to not give up hope and that everyone has a voice and a choice.

Profile Image for Alley Kat.
230 reviews1 follower
February 10, 2013
Darkwood was a nice book about a girl on the run from the people forcing children to work in the canyons, mining precious rock. It had a really strong fantasy feel that I didn't quite understand until the end of the book. I loved the communication between the main girls and the kinderstalk. Annie's cats were so amazing, always finding her no matter where she went.
Profile Image for Tony.
1,568 reviews
March 6, 2011
Anne the twelve year old heroine and her feline companions Isadore and Prudence go on adventure that takes them from the dark woods of Howland to the palace of the capital city. Who is Anne really and will she find out in time?
Profile Image for Becky.
417 reviews2 followers
October 16, 2019
Breen is a good writer. She created a world of fairy tale magic that feels possible, and characters who fill their roles perfectly.

That being said, maybe I just wasn't the in mood while reading it, but I felt like it reached a semi-interesting level and just stayed there. There was no intense reveal or brilliant twist...it just felt like it went like it was supposed to and there was nothing surprising.

I do appreciate the sisterly affection shown throughout, and the themes of loyalty and courage and finding your own family when yours abandons you.

I thought the ...it felt a bit extreme and graphic for a middle-grade book.

Honestly, there's really just not a lot to say about this book. The writing was really good, and allowed me to get into the story. When writing is distracting that's always annoying, but this wasn't one of those experiences. But it wasn't phenomenal either. It was just "good" overall.
Profile Image for Eon Ice.
44 reviews19 followers
September 12, 2017
Easily one of my favorite childhood books (okay, maybe teen books xD), I've always found the story encased within "Darkwood" to be both sweet and haunting, unique amongst its peers in any Junior or High School library -- or any other library for that matter. In an era shaped by "Twilight", "Darkwood" had a voice of its own, clear and bright as a bell, one that kept me going back to it again and again. The characters, the simple but layered story, and most of all the myths surrounding the world within the pages... I'm proud to say that I own a copy which I still, even in my twenties, occasionally reread. And I hope to one day share it with whatever children life may bring into my world someday.
Profile Image for Allyson.
505 reviews
February 22, 2019
The book is well written in the sense of imagery and atmosphere, but the narrative jumps between chapters so strangely in places that I was compelled to check the page numbers to make sure I hadn’t skipped anything. There is an interesting story that’s told but there are other stories that should have been told as well. How did Sharta and Helia fall in with Jock and Primrose? How does Rinka feel about having sisters? Will Annie change into a wolf? Why doesn’t she devour the witch in the end or is that just a set up for a sequel? What’s going to happen with the throne now that the king is dead? Is Page gone around the bend to the point where she wants a comatose husband? And what oh what is the backstory of Serena and Beatrice? So great book, but it really left too much unfinished for me.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for O'Train  Disene .
77 reviews
June 7, 2022
It's a nice and intriguing book that will certainly suit novelists. It illustrates what seems to be a sad ending it turns out to be a surprising happy beginning through a young character named Annie Trettwitt.

She was living with her Aunt and Uncle all her life with her sister, Page. Later they told her that her sister is taken by the animals (Kinderstalk, they kill everyone they see in the night). In a setting at an imaginary fiction country called Howland. Annie, who is from Dour County province. Learns a lot of shocking stories about her 'perfect' country.

Her, meeting her parents changes everything. She finds out that she is not of a human species. BUT, WHO/WHAT ARE HER PARENTS?

Go to your nearest library to find out the full journey of Annie. It's a good book. I rate it 3★.
Profile Image for Brianna.
26 reviews
December 26, 2020
"Darkwood" is a good read - Breen's world, ideas, and characters are thoroughly intriguing, and Breen does well introducing all (such as the "hero of legend" archetype and even the true antagonist) in ways that are arguably unconventional to the fantasy genre. However, I am disappointed that this world, its ideas, and its characters were not explored more in-depth. Breen sets very interesting plot points into motion yet, due to the length of the novel and the pacing of the plot, fails to expand upon them in a way that seems satisfactory.
March 20, 2017
Darkwood is a darkness that falls so quickly in Howland and that the people there have no word for evening. Just within a minute the sky is light, the next minute it is black. But darkness comes in other forms, and Annie age of thirteen-year-old who live with her aunt and uncle since her parents died, the misery she endures in her Uncle's household that makes the black of night seem almost soothing.
When Annie escapes her route takes her to a first dangerous mine where a stone is being stolen by an enemy of the king, and later to the king's own halls, where a figure from Annie's past makes a startling appearance. All the while, reported sightings of kinder stalk— mysterious, wolf-like creatures that prowl Howland's dark forests—grow more frequent.
255 reviews3 followers
May 24, 2018
An unsettling darkness a whisper. Hints of a lone orphans past. I thought my family was terrible. Overall it was a pretty decent story. I just didnt obsess over the fate of the characters and that is a must for me. I liked the story well enough. It is unique. I just have to feel that connection with the characters. I need that.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
8 reviews
April 9, 2023
This story has so much potential, but the ending … it just ends! There’s no wrapping up of story lines and it is left with a very unsatisfactory pseudo finish. And since this book was published in 2009 and there still isn’t a sequel out, I highly doubt we’ll ever get answers.
Profile Image for Daphne Sena.
7 reviews
March 14, 2019
Found this book in the library. I sat down and started reading. Finished it in one day. Good story with lots of surprises.
348 reviews2 followers
November 3, 2020
What is HAPPENING in this book? I was confused the entire way through. Even the parts I understood didn't make sense.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
25 reviews
May 16, 2021
Overall, I enjoyed the setting of the book and the characters... but the plot was hard to follow at times. The story seemed to lack flow.
Profile Image for Joey.
37 reviews
November 5, 2022
Narrative style was pleasant to read. The book plot was meandering and tried to wrap up too quickly with convenient plot “twists.”
Profile Image for Barbara.
268 reviews13 followers
December 10, 2022
This was an odd little book. I read it on the trains while travelling abroad. It had definite flares of creativity and paragraphs of inspired prose, but was overall poorly edited and forgettable.
268 reviews
February 4, 2016
The book starts slow, then slowly sucks you in. There are some thrilling moments that can be considered mildly scary, but due to the fantasy nature of the book is not to scary. I flt the story dragged a little in the middle, but quickly picked back up at the end.

Children's Literature - Jennifer Lehmann
For years she has feared the kinderstalk, but when Annie overhears her uncle making plans to sell her to work at the Drop, she risks the dangers of the forest to get away. On a journey that takes her to the palace and into a battle she never expected, Annie learns the kinderstalk are not to blame for all the death that has been attributed to the creatures, and the mine at the Drop is much worse than she feared. From the first enchanting paragraph, the story of this brave girl hooks you. The language is hauntingly beautiful, and the action is expertly paced. Some of the twists needed a few more hints early on, but the revelations of the secrets were well-developed. Annie grows believably throughout the book, and the reader will cheer for her from the first page. The ending ties up the main storyline while leaving some threads dangling. While a sequel is not obvious, I hope for more from Annie and M.E. Breen. Reviewer: Jennifer Lehmann

VOYA - Betsy Fraser
When Annie overhears Uncle Jock making evil plans for her, her only choice is to run away. The only place for her to go is into the forest, which is too scary for even her Uncle to follow. The forest is home to the Kinderstalk, who are the bogeymen who frighten both children and adults alike. Annie would be surprised to find out that they may yet become an unlikely ally when she is found and sent to the Drop, the place where children mine the ringstone that is at the basis of a threat to topple the kingdom. Annie not only finds herself able to see in the dark, a very useful skill in a moonless world that lives in darkness much of the time, but also a lynchpin in the fight to save the children at the Drop and the much larger fight. Breen's first novel gives readers many elements from fairy tales combined effectively into a fast-moving story. It provides a strong female presence without any possibility for romance. Readers interested in adventure combined with fairy tale elements will enjoy this book. Reviewer: Betsy Fraser

VOYA - Sebastien Wen
Thumbs up for the eerie fairy-tale tone and the creative world (the missing moon was a nice touch). Thumbs down for the desperate and tedious attempts at creating imagery. No, this book doesn't sing so sweetly for a teenage audience whatsoever. Whoever had the notion that we teens wanted yet another Hansel and Gretel, Peter Pan, Wonderland crossbreed anyways? Reviewer: Sebastien Wen, Teen Reviewer

School Library Journal
Annie Trewitt, 12, lives with her aunt and uncle, who barely tolerate her existence. When she overhears a conversation about sending her away, she decides it is time to leave on her own. She braves the dark night and its terrors (no moon or stars in Howland, and kinderstalk roam the forest) and becomes entwined in a series of adventures, among them a turn at a mine where children toil until they drop. Escaping, she intends to tell the king that crates of ringstone are being smuggled away. At the palace, Annie finds her sister, long presumed dead, and even more intrigue. Darkwood is engaging in concept. However, the pacing is a bit uneven with some parts seeming drawn out and others racing by, leaving readers wondering what they may have missed. The protagonist is solidly drawn, but the minor characterizations are thin. Better picks for readers looking for a creepy fantasy adventure include Avi's The Book Without Words (Hyperion, 2005), Suzanne Collins's "The Underland Chronicles" (Scholastic), and Derek Landy's "Skulduggery Pleasant" books (HarperCollins).-Saleena L. Davidson, South Brunswick Public Library, Monmouth Junction, NJ

Kirkus Reviews
This unique tale shines with utterly believable strangeness. Annie lives with her aunt and uncle in an area where crops don't grow and people fear being snatched by the bestial kinderstalk in darkness. Night falls suddenly in this moonless land. Overhearing that her uncle's selling her to the Drop, where (she discovers later) miners hang by rope over a cliff to chisel precious ringstone out of the rock face, Annie runs away into the night. She has only the dress on her back-with secret pockets sewn into it by her beloved late sister-and two loyal, knowing cats. A garden, grossly vivid for wintertime, reeks of the same "tinny sweetness" as the docile miners. Through repeated captures and escapes, with fairy-tale motifs always present but never dominating, Annie slowly unravels the mysteries of her circumstances. Readers sometimes know more than Annie, sometimes less. Breen's finely tuned storytelling-pithy description, quick and keen emotion, broad trust of readers' intelligence-offers equal gratification whether readers spot clues and connections early or late. Both grounded and wondrous. (Fantasy. 9-13)
Profile Image for Ana Mardoll.
Author 7 books386 followers
February 27, 2011
Darkwood / 978-1-59990-259-3

With its lovely cover featuring a heroine with dark hair and bright eyes, framed by two clever cats and trailed by the ominous shapes of black wolves melting into the shadows of the forest behind her, "Darkwood" cannot help but catch and hold the eye of the observer. The premise is even more intriguing: in the world of Howland, there is no dusk, no moon, and no stars - only sudden, complete blackness when night comes. The inky darkness hides frightening dangers - the black wolves, or 'kinderstalk', that take livestock from the farms and steal children under the cover of darkness. When Annie learns, at the start of this fast-paced novel, that her foster uncle and aunt plan to sell her as a slave to the nearby mine, she braves the darkness for the first time, and a world of adventure opens up before her.

Reviewing books meant for younger readers is always difficult because one has to weigh the quality of the writing against the expectations of the intended audience. I was pleased to note that "Darkwood" starts the action quickly, filling in necessary details as the heroine goes along, rather than spending the first few chapters filled with nothing but exposition. Author Breen treats the reader with respect, providing little details along the way that will become significant in retrospect, always with a light touch, never rubbing the reader's nose in. On the other hand, however, sometimes too much credit is given to the imagination, as Breen has a habit early in the novel of moving the characters around too quickly, often to places the reader is unaware of or unprepared for. This sort of 'exposition via teleportation' is a touch disorienting and can be a little confusing. However, the style settles down a bit after the first third of the book or so and 'teleportation' is kept to a minimum afterward. As is not uncommon with fantasy books, some rather wild coincidences abound in order to further the plot line, which might potentially strain the credulity of an adult reader, but not so many as to try the patience of a younger reader, I think.

Although many of the common motifs of fairy tales and children's stories are present here - a quiet orphan, a bewildering prophecy, a dark wood brimming with shadowy monsters - "Darkwood" manages to remain immensely original as it weaves a tale of wars: humans against animals, king against subjects, and children against adults. Annie, our dark-haired heroine, is full of the hopes and fears of youth, and is clever, courageous, and kind without ever being too 'perfect' or unrealistic. She is often quiet, but is not afraid to speak her mind when the situation requires it, and she is not fazed or impressed by the trappings of wealth and royalty. Though she is bemused by her cats' almost magical ability to guide and protect her, she learns to trust them as her unlikely guardians. Breen also provides wonderful supporting characters, including two comical, yet wise, adult sisters who provide Annie with much needed maternal love and support on her hard journey.

Though the target audience of "Darkwood" is 10-14 years of age, I have no doubt that children and adults of all ages will find the original story, the commendable heroine, and the dark world of Howland to be a compelling and interesting read. For myself, I will definitely be watching for any sequels that may come, and I hope that Annie will enjoy many future adventures.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.

~ Ana Mardoll
Profile Image for Shel.
325 reviews14 followers
July 25, 2009
Breen, M.E. (2009). Darkwood. New York: Bloomsbury Children's Literature.


An orphan named Annie (no relation to the musical Annie) lives with her uncle and aunt who are far from wonderful caregivers. Annie misses her dead sister as well as her lost friend, Gregor, who along with many other children in the area has been taken by the beastly and hungry Kinderstalk.

Annie overhears her uncle planning to sell her into service at the Drop, a place that Annie is certain will lead to hear death. Instead, she chooses to run away, an effort that will take her into the woods and on to many dangerous places with her two cats by her side. Within her first hours of running, Annie encounters the kinderstalk as well as a strange scarred man who is looking for her and a child that is "marked." What does this have to do with Annie and her new found ability to see in the dark (and, I would argue, her magic ability to overhear many important conversations at just the right time)? Will she find her way to safety? And will she be able to help other lost children?

This fantasy feels like a fairy tale, incorporating many of the same themes, tensions and relationships often present in such stories. The forest described could easily be the Black Forest incorporated into many of the folktales the Grimm brothers collected. But what is interesting is the fact that the main protagonist and the majority of helpful supporting characters are all female, something the Grimms never really managed.

While the writing is good, I found it easy as a reader to accidentally miss some plot points that could have been emphasized more. Several time I asked myself, "Wait, how'd we get here?" or "What did I miss?" Overall, this story never truly managed to completely capture my attention the way I would have liked it to.

Activities to do with the book:

Darkwood has a decidedly German fairytale vibe to it. It could easily be paired with some of the Grimm's tales for comparison.

In response to reading this book, students could write their own stories, create illustrations of the kinderstalk or their own invented beasts. As they learn more about the kinderstalk, they could create new illustrations to show how their perceptions of the creatures have changed.

Since child labor is presented in the novel, a teacher could take this on as a moment to describe the history of child labor in the U.S., the laws preventing it, and how it continues to be an issue worldwide.

Favorite Quotes:

"The sun sets so quickly in Howland that the people who live there have no word for evening. One minute the sky is blue or cloud gray, the next minute it is black, as though someone has thrown a heavy blanket over the earth" (p. 1).

"After seven centuries, you think the moon is going to show its face for you? Come away from there now and set the table."

Annie Trewitt took a small step back from the window. She had seen pictures of the moon in books, copied from older pictures in older books, copied from the oldest books of all" (p. 1).

"The Drop. They were sending her to the Drop, and she would die there" (p. 8).

"Darling, what do you wish for? The dark is drawing near" (p. 72).

"I have a message for the king, and I'm going to the palace to give it to him" (p. 88).

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Profile Image for Cecilia Rodriguez.
3,423 reviews34 followers
September 28, 2016
Breen's plot is dark and filled with secrets.
Annie Trewitt reminded me of: "Princess Mononoke."
Breen blends the darker elements of: Hansel and Gretel with Red Ridding Hood.
There is also a very subtle influence of Charles Dickens.
Towards the end of the story, Steampunk elements are brought in.
Another novel that is similar: "The Cats of Tanglewood Forest," by Charles de Lint.
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