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Book Review: A Dark and Starless Forest

A Dark and Starless Forest

Written by: Sarah Hollowell
Reviewed by: Mary Warren

Derry is a witch, but that’s not what Frank calls her; he says that’s a harmful word and that she and her eight siblings are alchemists. It’s all a rather idyllic life filled with chores, meal times and magic practice, until  one of her sisters goes missing in the woods one night. From then, a darkness settles and begins closing in all around her family, and it is up to Derry to save them. All of her skills, both magical and mundane, will be pushed to their limits. Will she be able to defeat the darkness before it takes more from her family?


 Derry’s journey is full of twists and turns. Part ghost story, part thriller, Hollowell invites the reader to a world where it’s difficult to know who or what to trust. The world and magic are beautifully described and immersive. I love books with a found family where they are all brought together by their magic and we can explore everyone’s abilities.


The representation in this book was incredibly diverse; Derry’s found family includes varied body types, ethnicities, sexualities and gender identities. Their diversities are presented descriptively, as parts of each sibling’s identity but are never intrinsic to the story. Derry’s presence as a fat main character is beautiful and relatable. She is big and not just curvy. She’s described as having fat arms, and at one point her attention falls to her belly resting on her thighs when she stands in front of the mirror. I can not recall another book where someone with a body like this was the hero of the story. I can not recall encountering a body like this in fiction where that body was not shorthand for gross, lazy, or immoral. It is important to have strong characters in all bodies. Being fat in real life is not a moral failing, so it should not be shorthand for that in the fictional world.


Sarah Hollowell has beautifully woven elements of fantasy, suspense and horror into a gripping story of found family, survival and hard choices through the vehicle of a beautiful, fat magic girl’s hero story. Derry reminds us how important it is to trust our instincts, and the perils when we don’t, even when everyone disagrees, how to find and use our inner strength to protect those we love and how to allow ourselves time and space to grieve when we realize we were blind to the darkness around us. I am glad this book exists, and I am grateful to have met a character like Derry.

Book Cover: An illustration of a fat white femme in a dark dress with twining vines curling around her. She stands backlit by light shining through a dark forest. She holds a single red flower with both hands. A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell