Publication date: September 1st, 2021 Links:  Amazon  |  Goodreads Everyone has wanted their favorite book to be real, if only for a moment....

Review || Winterset Hollow by Jonathan Edward Durham

Winterset Hollow cover, a Black and white sketch of bunny's head with barley sprouting from its eyes
Publication date: September 1st, 2021


Everyone has wanted their favorite book to be real, if only for a moment. Everyone has wished to meet their favorite characters, if only for a day. But be careful in that wish, for even a history laid in ink can be repaid in flesh and blood, and reality is far deadlier than fiction . . . especially on Addington Isle. Winterset Hollow follows a group of friends to the place that inspired their favorite book - a timeless tale about a tribe of animals preparing for their yearly end-of-summer festival. But after a series of shocking discoveries, they find that much of what the world believes to be fiction is actually fact, and that the truth behind their beloved story is darker and more dangerous than they ever imagined. It's Barley Day . . . and you're invited to the hunt.

Winterset Hollow is as thrilling as it is terrifying and as smart as it is surprising. A uniquely original story filled with properly unexpected twists and turns, Winterset Hollow delivers complex, indelible characters and pulse-pounding action as it storms toward an unforgettable climax that will leave you reeling. How do you celebrate Barley Day? You run, friend. You run.



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I want you to picture for a moment the characters of your favorite childhood novel. Do you have a good grasp of that in your mind? Now imagine that they are real, live, breathing things that you see and touch. Wouldn't that be incredible? That's exactly how Winterset Hollow begins. Eamon, Caroline, and Mark take a sabbatical to the home of their favorite author to see the place where it all began. To see where the creation of the one thing that molded their very beings occurred. They practically have a hero complex constructed of the author. Why wouldn't they—as the story and characters gave them a reprieve from their own lives and stressors?

It's difficult to remember while riding the wonderment of the opening pages that this is a dark fantasy. As the awe slowly starts to fade, trepidation and that feeling of wrongness slowly start bleeding in—bringing a wave of unease. The moment it all changes is palpable. From there, it's a veritable sea of crashing confrontations and revelations. The tension is high and once it begins, it doesn't let up until the very end. 

Durham's prose is certainly on the more literary side. Interspersed with poetry taken from Addington's version of Winterset Hollow, the verbiage is resinous and thick. The expansive depictions elevated the novel from what could have been a simple slash and hack.  I found the language selections meticulous and beautiful. I think a lot of readers might consider it is overreaching and perhaps even pretentious but it worked so well for me. 

I truly did not expect the emotional rawness of Winterset Hollow. The wonderment of the beginning when they are meeting the characters, the shock when it all goes south, the fear and anxiety, and in the end, the bitterness of heartache. This was a completely unanticipated emotional rollercoaster of a book. There's no succor as the reader is ricocheted from one blow to another, whether physical, emotional, or mental. Was I happy with the ending? Honestly, I couldn't imagine a more flawless conclusion. It was like the sun setting on the perfect day—Barley Day.