I had a lot of great expectations for The Light Between Worlds and while some of the writing was beautiful and poetic, it just didn’t come together for me. Instead it felt like a recycled Narnia but dripping with sadness and lacking in the magical, wonderful quality of that series. The fantasy portion of the story is told via a series of flashbacks that feel like you are reading a newspaper instead of being immersed in a world. The real-life portion of the story is a constant parade of unhappiness, dark thoughts, self-harm, and the constant same longing and strained sister relationship that got tired after awhile. It’s like the same thing over and over and over.
The story starts out with 3 siblings running to their bomb shelter during an air raid in England during WW2. The youngest sister Evelyn wishes to be somewhere else and suddenly they are in a forest with a magical stag (Cervus). She is happy to be there, but her older sister Phillipa is a bit more reluctant. From there you get a little bit of a description of the children wandering around in the woods for two weeks. Besides some beautiful descriptions, there is really no meat and potatoes, and everything feels totally orchestrated and somehow sterile. The characters in the woodland are not developed and barely mentioned. They feel like they were recycled from a fairytale: barefoot woodlanders, tree and water spirits, etc. There was a lot of potential there, but besides barely mentioning these creatures, there was no more substance to them. The dialogue felt stilted and just jumped into events you totally don’t care about because there is no development of the world or situation.
The story jumps back-and-forth between past flashbacks about the Woodland to the present. I would have liked the author to spend some time in the past where things could have been magical, especially with her skill at writing descriptions. Most of the book is really centered on the present, though – with Evelyn longing to go back to the Woodland and feeling very out of place and unhappy in her life as a child again in England. She has what seems to me a weird and unhealthy relationship with her sister (who is away at an American college). She is always moping about wishing she was in the other world that she feels is her home – not the one she was born to. She is always moping about over her sister, as well. In the process of said moping she participates in self-harm. She also develops a relationship with a kind boy, Tom. I probably liked Tom’s character the most out of everyone in the book. He is sweet and accepting of Evelyn, even when it’s clear she is distressed/depressed, etc.
The flashbacks during this portion of the book felt worthless to me. I didn’t care about any character in the past as none of them were fleshed out. Cervus was a recycled Aslan. I didn’t care about the war in that world, either. There were no real details! Again, it felt like reading about everything in a newspaper. “Here are the bare details of what’s going on. Let’s throw in a sword or two and an evil guy that you don’t really know anything about because we are just briefly mentioning him. blah blah blah. The real-life world was where the book spent much more time on details and character building.
At one point in the book Evelyn disappears and the book switches over to Evelyn’s sister Phillipa’s viewpoint. This part of the book is a bit more interesting because you wonder…
if Evelyn has killed herself or actually managed to somehow return to the Woodlands. You find out that Evelyn managed to go back to the Woodlands. Her sister appears there for a moment (somehow?) and talks to her and gets to go back to the real world. The way it all worked out didn’t feel creative, but rather contrived.
There was a lot of potential for this book. It’s a shame more time wasn’t spent on developing the whole Woodlands portion. It was also a depressing read in general with many portions that felt contrived. There was no adventure (despite things going on in the Woodlands that could have contributed to that). It felt mostly like a Narnia rip-off that didn’t really work out well. I guess the contrast is that the focus was on the children’s lives after they returned and how miserable it was for the youngest sister as she grew older. I can see how some readers will find the story “heart wrenching” or haunting, etc. probably because of how much time is spent focusing on Evelyn’s inner feelings of despair. It’s very intimate in a way, but again, it just didn’t work for me.
I still would recommend it to someone who wanted a dark rendition of a struggle of not wanting to be somewhere. If you are looking for a magical fantasy, though, this book doesn’t deliver in that area (at least not for me).
There are a few fairly chaste kisses in the story in the context of a romantic relationship. There are a couple incidences of cursing. The main character participates in self-harm. There is a LOT of dark/unhappy emotion in this story.
*I received an ARC copy of The Light Between Worlds in exchange for my review.