Andrea Churchill’s The Lerewood is, in the main, a new fable, a new parable for modern readers. From the get-go, clearly we’re not expected to see the horrible town of Lerewood nor the haunted forest that surrounds it as plausible settings that could exist sometime, somewhere.
In this novelette, Lerewood is an isolated village filled with impoverished, starving people closer to primitive savagery than anything resembling civilized humanity. Strangely, these filthy and always angry townspeople never seem to die from disease or starvation. They don’t think there is any sort of outside world, have no idea where their town came from, and most importantly, they don’t know whether or not a glowing green-eyed creature in the woods named Ilere is real or a myth. In either case, the people live in fear of Ilere, terrified of her killing anyone who dares to go into the woods.
We meet one depressed middle-aged man named Uallas who is so tired of abuse from his more than shrewish wife that he decides to commit suicide by entering the woods. From that point forward, Uallas learns everything he was raised to believe was lies and that evil doesn’t live in the forest but instead lives in the people of Lerewood. He meets and befriends the strange, cloaked creature called Ilere before he must make choices about his future. Ilere too finds she must make hard choices as her mission isn’t the murderous crusade the unkind townspeople think.
Obviously, perhaps, this is a story full of symbolism as it explores themes like just what is the nature of evil, how can the natural world co-exist with a destructive mankind, how can we sort out physical and spiritual identity, and determine the meaning of sacrifice when balancing the fate of a world against the life of one man.
What gives this story an extra measure of readability is Churchill’s gift for moody, gloomy, and often spooky descriptive language that personifies a strange forest, its trees, its creatures, its ground and leaves. Here’s a very brief sample:
The trees seemed to get taller as he walked further along. The trees that surrounded him were covered in vines to the point where the bark could not be seen. He felt the different vines that hung before him; one tree had sticky vines, another had rotting vines, and another's vines were ashy. Nothing was barren, yet nothing was fresh and new. All the vegetation of Lerewood had some kind of murkiness to it, as if it was all infused with haunted souls or, more likely, exposed to the presence of an unnatural and evil being.
You could classify The Lerewood as YA as its readability would suit any age-range. But it’s the sort of fable that should appeal to a wider audience, especially readers who like their fantasies with a dark edge. And readers who don’t normally read fantasies should easily follow a story that reads like a yarn we all might have read long ago. But we didn’t.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Nov. 4, 2017: