REVIEW: Drowned Country by Emily Tesh

4/5 stars — a satisfying bookend to the Greenhollow duology

Drowned Country has the same dark-forest atmosphere, slow-building chills, and character-based payoff as Silver in the Wood, but it makes the reader work for them. Once you do some digging, the two halves of this novella series have a satisfying reflective symmetry in plot and the development of the main characters’ emotional arcs; both are steeped in Emily Tesh’s cozy-creepy style of folklore-esque storytelling and dripping with longing and dread.

Silver in the Wood begins ripe with promise: Tobias Finch, the wild man of the forest, meets the newly arrived Henry Silver, and it’s clear that a fairy tale will unfold. Drowned Country begins with the pair’s ‘happy-for-now’ ending over; Silver now holds Greenhollow’s mystical stewardship, while Tobias is away hunting monsters alongside Silver’s formidable mother with no apparent plans to return. The sequel also introduces a new character: a young woman named Maud who’s embroiled in the supernatural, although it’s not clear how much of her involvement is of her own devising or whether something sinister is behind her intrepid curiosity.

My main quarrel with this book is the ending. Staying vague to avoid spoilers, I’ll say that I think the end could’ve fallen into either of two possible categories, and it got the happier but more anticlimactic one. I’m not usually one for ‘dark’ fantasy, but there were a few places where this book’s plot seemed to avoid going to a spookier, grittier place—to the story’s detriment. Sometimes that’s an author’s style, but the first book’s climax had a fairly grim edge and real danger, whereas this one diluted those qualities. The third act also felt rushed, stealing some of the resonance from an otherwise nicely bittersweet conclusion.

However, any lost potential in the ending didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story much. Tesh added depth to the world she built in Silver, never eliminating the mystery of the supernatural but layering in deeper shadows and greater, older menaces. She also allowed the characters more complexity—particularly Silver himself, since we never got his POV in the first book, and he wastes no time before having an existential crisis once his internal voice is available. I missed Tobias’ POV a bit, but it was interesting to infer (based on the first book) what lay beneath his apparently stoic mask.

The audiobook, expressively narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies, was a really fun way to experience this story. If you have access to the audio edition that combines this and the first novella, I highly recommend it! The whole thing is less than six hours long, and audio is the perfect medium for these atmospheric tales.

Content warnings: depression, mention of human remains, implications of mental manipulation (fantasy), vague suicidal urges

** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. **