Katharine Coldiron Reviews Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh

Silver in the Wood, Emily Tesh (Tor.com Pub­lishing 978-1-250-22979-3, $11.99, 110pp, tp) June 2019.

Think of the loveliest, most shivery story you ever read, perhaps from a crumbling book of folk tales, and combine it with a book of nature writing. Add queer romance, a steely mama witch hunter, and the tension of knowing what a sweet, silly love interest doesn’t know. That is Silver in the Wood.

This will be a short review, not just because Silver in the Wood is a scant 100 pages, but because the novella is so wonderful I see no need to ask you to read more of my words when you could be reading Emily Tesh’s instead. It’s an utterly enchanting piece of work. Perhaps a bit single-minded, and Tesh lost me here and there, but I fell in love with the book as it is and wouldn’t change a word.

In the old-fashioned language of folklore, Sil­ver in the Wood tells a tale about a 400-year-old inhabitant of the forest named Tobias Finch. One night, a young man named Henry Silver comes to Finch’s door to get out of the rain, and across the rest of the book, the two of them pursue each other in a subtle, aching romance. The Lord of Summer, a fae creature named Fabian with whom Finch has tangled before, threatens to disrupt the lives of Silver, his family, and the townspeople who live near the forest with his appetites. With the help of magic and sacrifice, all ends well, if not ideally.

Tesh never says outright what Finch is, but instead implies it repeatedly with language: “The heart of Tobias’s untidiness wouldn’t be fixed by any washing. Already there were brackish stains on the bedlinen.” “Brackish” denotes that he’s a tree-person. Sort of. I think. But not really. I admire Tesh’s craft in implication rather than statement, but I kind of wish she’d just explained. Even though I loved the novella enough to gulp it in one bite, I still wasn’t clear on the nature of the forest’s relationship with Finch by the end. It hardly matters, though, when Tesh is capable of such gorgeous descriptions:

Slow and green he felt the life of it…. It poured around him thick and steady, binding all to­gether, the long patient strength of the trees that anchored, the deep bright power of the handful of dryads… and then the small and necessary, the bracken and ferns, the mosses and mushrooms.

Silver in the Wood is a splendid piece of work, self-contained enough to be a perfect use of the novella form, rich enough to tingle on the skin, direct and meaningful enough to read aloud as a bedtime story. Pick it up and read it in a forest clearing, perhaps with a circle of salt around you, just to be safe.

Katharine Coldiron is the author of Ceremonials (Kernpunkt Press), an SPD fiction bestseller. Her work as a book critic has appeared in The Washington Post, The Believer, The Guardian, and many other places. She lives in California and at kcoldiron.com.

This review and more like it in the August 2019 issue of Locus.

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