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WesternSFA
The Darkest Part of the Woods
by Ramsey Campbell
Tor Paperback, $15.99, 364pp
Release Date: August 30, 2011

Ramsay Campbell writes soft, inexorable horror: there is an inevitability to the story as it unfurls, and at the end everyone has been affected by the darkness they sought to contain, or escape.

Goodmanswood has survived, encroached upon by expanding suburbs and roadways, for untold ages, and for decades the Price family and their allies has guarded its boundaries and monitored its behavior. The woods are sentient, imbued with purpose and mysterious intent. Tricksy, the mind behind the leaves and bark and mould and hallucinogenic moss that grows nowhere else, lures and befuddles and seduces the humans who enter its domain.

The narrative is so complexly nuanced, so ambiguous, that it is left to the reader to decide whether Goodmanswood is a locus of unremitting evil or of something else: The Green Man, an entity mankind has forgotten, misunderstood, and so fears. It is just possible that the Price family is betraying its true purpose.

This novel reminds me of an old fantasy short story I read in a forgotten anthology, about a Strong Man who settles in a lonely part of Africa , near a grove of trees which is the last sacred place where the spirit of Astarte dwells. The Strong Man’s not-so-strong Best Friend takes a misliking to the grove – derived from unacknowledged jealousy crossed with envy – and destroys it. Goodmanswood is not destroyed, but its will is thoroughly thwarted – at least for another generation. The question remains, is Goodmanswood part of the root of all evil, or does it hold, all unrecognized, the seed of evil’s antidote? ~~ Chris R. Paige

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