There is no warning. No chance to prepare. They arrive in the night: thundering up through the ground, transforming streets and towns into shadowy forest. Buildings are destroyed, broken bodies hanging among the leaves. Adrien, a man who has never been much of a hero, is forced to find help when he realises that none is coming to him. He meets Hannah, and her teenage son Seb. Together, they set out to find Hannah’s brother, and Adrien’s wife – meeting many people along the way. Some good, some bad, and one who stays with them – a young Japanese girl far from home. Their journey will take them to the heart of the forest, to a place of terrible beauty and violence, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness inside themselves…
Ali Shaw has written two previous novels – one of which, The Girl With Glass Feet, I hugely enjoyed. A hugely moving and wonderfully depicted novel, I was eager to read Shaw’s latest. I should also really point out quite how stunningly beautiful the cover is – the image of a fox made out of foliage is not just incredibly eye catching – it sums up several of the themes of the book in one fell swoop, as good cover art should always do.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I began to read – a tale of dull suburban life is swiftly made both magic and terrifying by the sudden arrival of trees everywhere, bursting through houses, destroying roads, and tearing through people indiscriminately. Their arrival is shocking to both the reader and the characters – and it makes it easy to swiftly identify with Adrien, who could otherwise have been an initially rather pathetic character. The others who accompany the reader through the book are all equally compelling – watching Hannah’s journey as her dreams of a green utopia fade, and watching Seb and Hiroko grow to maturity as they travel along, every chapter is as thrilling as the next.
As for the plot, it’s rather breath-taking in the twists that Shaw has skilfully woven in. I couldn’t categorise this book as any one category – with elements of fantasy, science fiction, and the blackest of fairy tales, I would say the things I was most reminded me of was of whilst reading were the films of Studio Ghibli – sweeping Japanese anime epics that deal with issues such as growing up, protecting nature, and even war and abandonment, in beautifully moving style.
An enchanting sweep of a journey, The Trees will touch your soul one moment and have you cowering beneath the sofa the next – it’s testaments to Shaw’s skill that he managed to make a nature lover such as I temporarily terrified by trees…
Nature here is as red in tooth and claw as it can get, and Shaw exploits it to maximum effect, skilfully finding the savage beauty in the violence, and lightening it with compelling characters and black humour. All the while, he raises serious questions about our world – not smacking the reader round the head with overt social commentary, but leaving traces that, much like the creeping roots that instil so much fear throughout the book, will quietly surround the reader and leave them pondering the issues raised for a very long time. Huge thanks to the publishers for the copy.