The White Forest by Adam McOmber: A Review

In the bestselling tradition of The Night Circus and Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger, Adam McOmber’s hauntingly original debut novel follows a young woman in Victorian England whose peculiar abilities help her infiltrate a mysterious secret society.

Young Jane Silverlake lives with her father at 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 manmade 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 new virtual reality, 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.
It was my grief and my vision of the pale forest that opened me to what Nathan would later call my "talent." After the death of my mother, I was changed. It was as though her passing had torn open the very cells of my body, causing an ache like I'd never known. These cells were now pouring forth some strange material, giving birth to a new Jane Silverlake who I did not yet fully comprehend. 

 The White Forest is narrated from the protagonist, Jane Silverlake's perspective.  The setting appears to be 19th century, Victorian era, England. There are flashbacks that appear frequently within these pages. There are many main characters: Jane's parents, her best friend Madeline Lee, mutual friend Nathan Ashe (a Lord Byron wannabee), and the ever illusive and evil Ariston Day. Do not get very attached to many of these characters because within this ancient tale, many mysteries and secrets abound. This might be the problem. You see, though, I love a good Victorian Gothic tale, as much as the next gal, I get the feeling Adam McOmber couldn't decide on which avenue to take.Do I make this a Victorian tale with Gothic elements, or do I write a Fairy Tale/Fantasy/SciFi/Goth?

It is clear from the beginning that Jane Silverlake is a special girl due to the fact that 'Jane can touch objects (even people) and change them' but how, I wondered? The reader soon finds out that Jane is what Pagans, Wiccans, and Celtic Mythology refer to as an 'empath or clairvoyant' complete with visions! This is necessary to the plot and towards the end of this not-so-complicated tale, the truth about Jane and those who orbit her world, is told and everything clicks in to place. Thank goodness for this because an impatient soul, as myself, was growing quite frustrated with Ms. Silverlake and her illustrious group of friends.

I would not say I loved The White Forest but I did not hate it. I am in like with it. My one pet peeve is a big one...
Adam McOmber writes descriptively using a Victorian era tone but suddenly he has characters narrating after large dialogue scenes using modern language and slang which is insulting to the reader but more importantly jarrs them out of one era and back to present day!


Also, he takes his liberties with historical experiences. For instance, he ruined the chapter mentioning the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace taking place at Hyde Park, London. He made the choice to keep the location Hyde Park even though at the back of the novel, he makes a point to mention that the location moved to Sydenham Hill. If he had done his research beyond location, he would have mentioned the fact that there were numerous fantastic writers and painters who travelled to see this exhibition such as Pre-Raphaelite notables and Alfred Tennyson who wrote home to his wife Emily mentioning how he enjoyed listening to Handel's Messiah being played as he toured the Great Exhibition. Emily was not with him because she was pregnant and could not travel. Though, according to her letters,she was disappointed to miss it. Queen Victoria is the only one mentioned as being there!
There is also the mention of 'toilets' and lovemaking described as 'making hasty love' which I strongly doubt in 1851 would have been the words used between friends to describe it!

Overall, a great attempt at a very clever story. However, the choice of the writer to add too many elements Fantasy, Gothic, Victorian era, Celtic Mythology, Greek Mythology, as well as, historical figures such as an interesting use of a visit from Edgar Allan Poe!
If you enjoy a full on mix of subjects and history than you will love The White Forest.  If not, then this might not be the book to choose!

Please feel free to comment,


Maggie Peters said…
I want to read this but I was hoping for a Gothic story. It sounds like this one has everything in it but the kitchen sink. It would confuse me. Thanks for a great review.
Kimberly Eve said…
Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment, Maggie. This might be a good library book for you.

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