How long has it been since we took ourselves into the forest that early New Year? Fast and safe, your footfalls placed as if you knew the way by heart, we crossed the pasture to the frozen river and on to the far country beyond. Were we driven away from home? I wonder if you were following a Siren’s song: lute and lyre drifting on the cold wind. Or maybe we were just lost children instead of questing heroes.
“Come here when you want to wish for something,” you said, smiling. “Bring something precious.”
Youth. The woods. Dreams and portents. Magic runs through all of them. But in the aftermath of war a young boy is twisted and tested trying to hold his family together.
As his sister recovers from a terrible assault by her father, she teaches him about the magic in the land, the tombs of ancient kings and the wishing lake, about the treacherous Red Cap and the places deep in the woods where the adults don’t go.
But when she disappears, the balance fails. Parents divided by their pain and all eyes in the village turn to the father, a man who brought his own nightmares back from the war. They search the woods, pushing deeper into the strange spaces where myths grow with the trees. But only the boy knows the secret paths they took, and the way to the lake where wishes come true.
A story of the potent and dark spaces of folklore, The Willow By Your Side is the nest of British fantasy. Channelling Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood and Catriona Ward’s Rawblood, Haynes plunges deep into the landscape, peeling back the delicate rules of the British identity, and what we hide beneath it.