Reviews for A Face in the Leaves.
Horror has long told us to fear nature. The forests, the water, the night and all the things that live in it are often the centre of any tale. You can see why this unknowable world we no longer fit in with would be source of scares and cautionary tales. Over the last few centuries humanity has taken control of the planet and we are probably nature’s monsters but as the situation gets direr perhaps, we need to be careful again. This idea gets to feature smartly in Nina Oram’s fascinating horror tale A Face In The Leaves where a mystery in a painting reveals a vengeful dangerous force seeking revenge.
Lily Goodfellow is a middle-aged well respected art journalist and has been writing a new piece on some of the new names in the field. An interview with Ben Lewis who is creating eye-catching angry natural art that is also balanced with a love of nature. Lily is impressed with Ben’s work and marks him as a future name to watch but she gets intrigued by a strange face staring at her out of the painting that then vanishes. Lily is puzzled how Ben has done it and after meeting him starts to feel a little out of sorts – time seems to fast forward and she senses a presence is watching her whenever she passes a park. Suspecting Ben’s involvement, she investigates his past and finds some alarming facts about him but slowly another factor gets involved too centring around the myth of the Green Man and Lily finds herself in huge danger.
This is a very well created mystery horror that subtly moves from a curious London art gallery encounter to a larger and frenetic finale in the woods far away from the bright lights of safety. In some ways very traditional in structure using the idea of an artwoprk with some supernatural force but what works well is the rationale behind it. Usually, we get cursed objects but here we get a much bigger natural force that isn’t about a family or individual to target but the entire human race being seen as an enemy. Oram uses the Green Man legend and history to remind us he is not always good and powerful he can be seen as someone thing more menacing and the off-kilter version we meet in this story is delightfully crafty and nasty. A reminder when its one human versus nature the odds are often not in your favour.
The story also works really well thanks to the use of character and settings. With Lily we get a refreshing middle-aged character who while new to the realm of the supernatural applies her journalist skills to investigating the mystery. She’s funny, smart and very capable and spending time in her company also extremely likeable from her approach to work to her relationship with her husband which feels again refreshingly normal, charming and solid. Having such a character itself helps change the tone of the story from traditional young person out of their depth to someone with a bit more experience tackling it in slightly different directions and makes it more interesting.
The last component of the story that pulls you in is the use of different settings. Oram really uses nature here as a wild strange force that simple walks in parks or tales of a child playing in them gets a darker hue. As the story develops, we start to fear the trees and bushes that reside in our city streets and when we tread in the end to tackle the final mystery itself that we realise just how powerful nature can be. It is delivered really well and I like how Oram slowly turns the story from one of ultra-modern 21st century London life to a very familiar eerie woodland scene and the transition feels both natural and very fitting for the final dramatic scenes
A Face In The Leaves is a very well-crafted story that is perfect for a winter evening while the trees sway outside. You just may want to ensure the doors and windows are bolted. Very impressive and a lot of fun. A writer I shall be looking out for in the future. Highly recommended!
(Given advance copy by publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review)
5.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric and eerie, a great read you can’t put down
Novellas are a great size for reading in only one or two sittings. This story gripped my attention from the start, and like the woods it described, didn’t let go. A tale for our times, warning us to take greater care of the natural world, or else.... The face in the leaves is out for vengeance and picks its victims from those that venture into its domain regardless of their guilt or innocence. With art journalist Lily in its sights, we move between the normal world outside the woods, the relaxing and natural world that we see as we wander through a wood, and the hostile and terrifying world that the woods can become when driven to protect themselves and revenge ancient wrongs.
Once Lily ventures into the woods, will she get out alive?
(Amazon Reviewer, April 2022).