Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw is a lush, atmospheric mystery with a spellbinding setting and prose that lulls you deeper and deeper into the mountain town of Fir Haven.
This book makes me think of a dream, a beautiful dream, that you do not want to wake up from, but when you inevitably do, you just lay in bed wishing you could fall back asleep. I read this book in one day, and I want to read it again. Everything about this story is beautifully constructed, the characters, the romance, the setting (Oh my goodness, the setting!!!), the plot twists, it all flows together into an enchanting story.
Up in the mountain town of Fir Haven, there is a forest. A deep, dark, and deadly place called the Wicker Woods. It is the kind of place where a lone soul may go in, but will never come out —- haunted they say. There is one girl who is not afraid of the Wicker Woods, and that is Nora Walker. Nora is a descendent of witches, who lives in a cabin by Jackjaw Lake and the Jackjaw Camp for Wayward Boys. She has a knack for finding things, particularly lost things in the Wicker Woods. One day while scavenging these woods, Nora finds a boy with eyes that are too green, with the scent of the forest clinging to his skin. She senses a change in the woods. Something is off about this boy, and Nora is determined to find out his secrets.
His name is Oliver Huntsmen, the boy who went missing from the Jackjaw Camp two weeks ago during the worst snowstorm in recent years. He should not be alive. Oliver doesn’t know how he ended up in the woods with a girl with leaves in her hair waking him up. He can’t remember hardly anything about that night— the night one boy went missing and one boy died.
Words cannot describe how much I love this story. This book takes place in our world, somewhere on the West Coast near California (my guess is Oregon). The way Ernshaw describes the small town of Fir Haven and the Wicker Woods is beyond stunning. I could smell the pines, the frosted scent of snow, the smoke from Nora’s fireplace. I could feel the Wicker Woods closing in on me, threatening to snuff out my breath.
With Nora being a witch, Winterwood is brimming with practical magic. In the book, Nora possess a family spellbook called the Spellbook of Moonlight & Forest Medicine. After each chapter is an excerpt from the spellbook about one of Nora’s ancestors and a spell recipe that corresponds to that ancestor’s “nightshade” (a “nightshade” is a witch’s specific gift or talent). An example would be the “Cure for Heartache & Unexplainable Weeping Fits”, in which you would need things like “One horse hair that is burnt at both ends” and powdered lemon balm (pg. 78). These chapters are such a delight to read and enhance the witchy aesthetic of the story as well as provide some background for Nora and her family.
I also love the character development and romance between Nora and Oliver. Nora is fairly self-deprecating in her mind, but to others she shows a self-assuredness. I found her to be a truly engaging character. And Oliver is perfect for her. He is gentle and supportive of Nora. He is not afraid of her witch ancestry like the other boys are. The romance is a slow-burn, but a delicious one. The twist at the end wrecked me and took the story in a direction I wasn’t expecting, but I ended up loving it. I wanted to cry at the pure beauty of this story.
I highly recommend Shea Ernshaw’s Winterwood if you love witches and dark woods, gentle and sweet romance, and a mind-twisting murder mystery.