The Woodcutter lives in an enchanted wood. His job, which he inherited from his ancestors, is to maintain peace and the delicate balance of good and evil in the neighboring realms of humans and fairies. One day when he discovers Cinderella lying dead on the forest floor, he knows that something has gone wrong. Further investigation shows other fairytale characters are in danger, one of Odin’s hellhounds has escaped, and someone is murdering pixies so they can sell pixie dust on the black market. The Woodcutter must figure out who is behind these evil events and set things right again.
Kate Danley originally self-published The Woodcutter a couple of years ago and then, after glowing reviews and some awards, it was picked up by 47North, Amazon’s SFF label. Brilliance Audio produced it (read by Sarah Coomes) and sent me a copy. As I can see from reviews at Amazon and Goodreads, most readers like The Woodcutter. I’m not sure if there’s something wrong with me, but The Woodcutter bored me to nearly literal tears. My opinion seems to be the conspicuous minority, so this is one of those times where I urge you to try the book for yourself. You’re likely to be one of the majority who enjoys The Woodcutter. But in case you’re wondering, I’ll be happy to tell you why it didn’t work for me.
I like the premise of a forest where all fairytale characters live together, but I didn’t think it was highly original and it shortly began to feel gimmicky to me. There is a mystery plot that tries to bind everything together — and some of it, such as the pixie dust drug trade, is unique and entertaining — but as the Woodcutter walked through the forest and met a new fairytale character every few minutes, I felt like I was watching a parade. There goes Cinderella, and there’s Sleeping Beauty. Wave hello to Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Rumpelstiltskin. Don’t forget Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Jack and the Beanstalk, and the Twelve Dancing Princesses. And, hey! It’s Odin, Titania, Oberon, and Baba Yaga, too! Perhaps this would have been more fun if Danley had not used their names and we’d been able to figure them out for ourselves, but this felt more like… well, what I said: a parade.
It’s possible that I would have liked The Woodcutter better in print than audio because I was irritated by Sarah Coomes’ narration. She reads it with a breathy sing-song voice that is regularly but indiscriminately passionate, almost groaning and straining in places (hear a sample). I think many readers will approve of Coomes’ interpretation, but I couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that I was supposed to be taking this story seriously and oh-so-tragically when I really felt like I was eating popcorn at Disney World and that the characters would soon be tossing me candy as they passed.
Obviously the goal was to make The Woodcutter sound like a fairytale, but it tries a little too hard to be lyrical and doesn’t quite manage it. The narrative was dull, distant and overly dramatic, making it hard to feel engaged. The Woodcutter is never given a name — he’s just known by his title. Everyone calls him “Woodcutter.” His wife is “Wife.” The other characters are known by their fairytale names. I had a hard time warming up to people who either had no name or who we know as fairytale characters. For the same reason, I had a hard time believing in the “True Love” that became the crux of the story. Frankly, I was bored with The Woodcutter and at the halfway point I ended up doing a lot of skimming.
With all that said, I can see some readers loving The Woodcutter for the exact same reasons that I didn’t… if that’s any help.