I’ve heard only positive things about Silver in the Wood since its debut in 2019, but the premise—cozy fantasy romance between a melancholy magical creature and a newcomer to his forest—wasn’t really in my wheelhouse, and it was easy to get lost amidst so many other excellent new releases. So, in keeping with the theme of my Hugo reviewing series, it was on my radar but not at the top of my list until Emily Tesh was nominated for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer. And up the list it went.
My impression wasn’t exactly right about the plot, but it wasn’t far off. This is not a fantasy romance, but it is a pretty cozy, small-scale fantasy with plenty of flirtation. And it does star a fairly melancholy magical creature—Tobias, the Wild Man of the Wood—who fairly easily connects with Henry Silver, the new legal owner of said woodland. But the romance is not the main plot, and there is an outside antagonist who poses genuine danger for Henry and Tobias and their quiet lives in and around the forest.
Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise, given its reputation, but I was struck from the first few pages by how easy it was to sink into the atmosphere of Greenhollow. Tesh delivers an effortless reading experience, not the quick page-turning of a thriller but the slower comfort of a quiet book in which to lose yourself. The coziness is off the charts, and it’s only strengthened by the chemistry between the two leads. In fact, I might complain that the book is too quiet and comforting, because it makes the appearance of an actual antagonist come off as jarring.
The antagonist is significant—this isn’t a quickly-dismissed problem while we get on with the romance, but something that shakes the lives of both Henry and Tobias. And, although it does provide cause for the introduction of a fun side character, the conflict is really too significant to be adequately covered in half a (short) novella, leading the back half to feel rushed and the immersion harder to come by. Tesh brings things to a satisfying conclusion, but the process of getting from conflict to conclusion just doesn’t exhibit the same craftsmanship as the introduction. Make no mistake, Silver in the Wood remains a quality novella, and it’s well worth reading for those who like smaller-scale fantasy and atmospheric settings. But it doesn’t quite maintain the standard of true excellence throughout.
Recommended if you like: small-scale fantasy, local mythologies, cozy atmospheres.
Can I use it for Bingo? Shockingly, it is not hard mode for Forest, although it is certainly applicable to the regular Forest square, along with Book Club and Debut
Overall rating: 15 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.