The 4 best horror novels of Halloween 2023

What would Hansel and Gretel be like as adults? Kell Woods’ inventive retelling explores the answer to this question, following Hans and Margareta “Greta” Rosenthal as down-on-their-luck German peasants struggling to make a living in a world still recovering from the Thirty Years’ War.

Greta has never felt like she fit into Lindenfeld, a little town on the edge of the Black Forest—not before she and Hans fell prey to the gingerbread witch, and not after their return. Nothing has been easy for the siblings: They’ve lost their father and endured a stepmother rotten to her core. Now, reckless Hans continually mishandles their money, and instead of considering suitable suitors, Greta deals with nightmarish visions and other strange sensations After the Forest quickly reveals how the Rosenthals have kept themselves afloat: Greta’s descent into witchcraft, aided by the gingerbread witch’s grimoire. 

When a handsome stranger emerges from the forest with seemingly good intentions, while at the same time, Lindenfeld explodes in prejudice towards the wild animals and supposed witches that plague the land, Greta must make difficult decisions about her path in life and who she can trust. At first, she confines herself to baking magically scrumptious gingerbread to sell at market, but Greta soon evolves into a greenwitch, working with the forest itself to achieve her goals and save those she loves. As her powers grow, she learns about the terrible effects of more powerful, darker spells. Naturally, Greta swears off this dangerous magic at first, but the evil forces lurking in the woods outside Lindenfeld grow ever stronger, and she might not be able to keep her hands clean. 

Readers will root for Greta to finally achieve her happily ever after while also relishing Woods’ dark, folklore-infused story. Each chapter begins with a snippet of a fairy tale about noble sisters Liliane and Rosabell, who at first seem unrelated to Greta—until Woods unravels the secrets that bind them together. After the Forest is full of enchanting references to various folk tales and truly feels like a children’s storybook come to life, albeit one with delightfully wicked and haunting twists. With its cookbooks that speak (and bite!) and enchanted gingerbread, After the Forest is a tantalizing treat.

Literature

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