Name: The Trees
Author: Ali Shaw
Number of Pages: 483 (Paperback)
Published: September 2016 by Bloomsbury
The Trees. They arrived in the night: wrenching through the ground, thundering up into the air, and turning Adrien’s suburban street into a shadowy forest. Shocked by the sight but determined to get some answers, he ventures out, passing destroyed buildings, felled power lines, and broken bodies still wrapped in tattered bed linens hanging from branches.
It is soon apparent that no help is coming and that these trees, which seem the work of centuries rather than hours, span far beyond the town. As far, perhaps, as the coast, where across the sea in Ireland, Adrien’s wife is away on a business trip and there is no way of knowing whether she is alive or dead.
When Adrien meets Hannah, a woman who, unlike him, believes that the coming of the trees may signal renewal rather than destruction and Seb, her technology-obsessed son, they persuade him to join them. Together, they pack up what remains of the lives they once had and set out on a quest to find Hannah’s forester brother and Adrien’s wife–and to discover just how deep the forest goes.
Their journey through the trees will take them into unimaginable territory: to a place of terrible beauty and violence, of deadly enemies and unexpected allies, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness–and also the power–inside themselves. – Goodreads
I’ve just emerged into the daylight from the world of The Trees and now I need to tell you about this brilliant book.
The Trees offers a pretty unique post-apocalyptic scenario in which the world as we know it becomes engulfed by a massive forest without warning. One minute all is normal, people are going about their lives, the next, worms, slugs and forest creatures swarm the land, a momentary forerunner of what’s to come as the merciless trees erupt from the earth, destroying anything and everything in their way. Houses are demolished, people are impaled on branches, vehicles are lifted skyward in the arms of tree branches.
And so begins this tale of survival in a strange new world.
Into this world comes Adrien Thomas. Adrien is worried, unsure, self-loathing, and going through life without any idea what his real purpose should be, and that’s before the trees arrive and change everything. He probably isn’t the sort of man you would expect to find in this situation, which makes him a great central character. His resolve upon realising what has happened is to wait inside until the authorities arrive and restore order, or to wait for his wife Michelle to return from her business trip to Ireland.
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a character like Adrien in this sort of tale before; he just wants to hide away and wait for someone else to sort everything out. It is only with great reluctance when it dawns on him that help is not coming that he ventures out into the world.
Adrien meets Hannah and her son Seb. Hannah is the complete opposite to Adrien, intending to thrive and survive. She takes a certain delight in this new world, seeing it as an opportunity to start again. She has always loved nature, and determines to set out west to find her brother Zach, who already lives in the forest from before.
The three travel together, as Adrien is encouraged by Seb to head west in the hope of finding his wife. With no other idea what to do, Adrien goes, privately telling himself he has no intention of going to Ireland, and will double back and head home as soon as opportunity provides and he has learned survival skills from these far more equipped people.
I can’t talk characters without mentioning Hiroko, the Japanese girl the group meet on their travels. She is brave and resourceful, and outwardly she’s pretty fearless. She’s also a frightened teenager who wishes for nothing more than her home, her family and her old life. Some of this longing becomes embodied in the fox kit who befriends her and becomes her constant companion, despite Hannah’s initial misgivings. He is Yasuo, and he is wonderful. And that’s all I’ll say about him.
So far, so real(ish) life. Then there’s another wonderful element to The Trees – the magic of the forest. The forest itself apparently has the power to change and alter the route people can take, paths that were there suddenly disappear, tracks vanish without trace, rivers are not where they should be, and a sense of direction is difficult to maintain.
There are strange creatures hiding in the forest too, small beings fashioned from sticks, leaves and twigs. Only Adrien sees them at first, and the dark tree towards which they keep moving haunts him.
Then there are kirins, mythical beasts almost like unicorns. They always appear at important moments and seem to serve as guides through the forest.
Along the way circumstances and events conspire to change our characters in ways they would never have imagined. I can’t say more without giving too much away but the journey these people go on, both physically and emotionally makes for a gripping read.
The Trees has everything – a unique post-apocalyptic scenario, survival against the odds, romance, adventure, heroes and villains. It blends all these together with fairytale elements and the result is a real page turning read.
As a side note, I know they say you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover but in this case… have you seen that cover? It’s striking and attention grabbing and vivid and it was certainly what drew me to the book in the first place. I’m happy to say the story contained within the pages more than lives up to the promise of the cover.