I absolutely love the woods. I grew up in a home surrounded by huge evergreens, and their roots burrowed into me at a young age. And while I found refuge in the trees as a child, I also developed a healthy respect for them—I always had a sense there was more to the woods than the dense branches and swaying treetops and wild ferns.
There’s something about the way the woods teeter on the edge of peaceful and eerie that I can’t get enough of. The way a lovely afternoon stroll can turn frightening with the snap of a twig or the rustle of leaves. The way the shadows seem to keep secrets and the darkness awakens things that were dormant during the day.
The woods have a way of making me believe in magic and monsters. And it’s that combination that keeps me coming back to the cover of the trees, day after day, even though I’ve read enough books to know better.
If you haven’t found time to get lost in the woods lately, here are five books that will either make you want to rush in headfirst or run far, far away.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
There is so much I love about this book. The writing is gorgeous, and the narrative takes its time, letting the reader really sink into the world. The enemies-to-lovers romance is fantastic, the description of magic is so organic it feels real, and the ominous Wood casts a constant shadow over the whole thing. The Wood is so well done—a character in its own right, its malevolent power and eerie presence hooked me from the start, but the way it’s developed kept me turning pages well into the night. I started to care deeply about the dense, overgrown Wood, wishing I could stand among the trees even though they’d surely bring me to my end. This is a standalone fantasy that is utterly satisfying, and I loved every minute of it.
The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman
If you loved Stranger Things, this is the book for you. It has the small-town vibes that I love, a group cast I would die for, and a brutal monster that lives in the Gray of the woods. Plus secrets. So many secrets. It’s a totally addicting read that pulled me further and further into the trees, and I gladly went along, enjoying every creepy, atmospheric page. The Gray is a perfect monster because you never have a fully-formed image of it; it’s constantly shifting in and out of view, making for a deliciously creepy read. You won’t want to leave the town of Four Paths anytime soon, so pick up this duology and get lost in its dense fog and haunting imagery.
Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw
This book is simply gorgeous. The writing is lyrical and lush, describing the dark woods that surround the small town of Fir Haven so perfectly it creates a completely immersive experience. As you get further into the book, you can feel the wind through the trees and hear the whispers of their branches. The woods are full of lost things waiting to be found, and Ernshaw’s writing makes you want to spend hours combing through the forest floor. Add in a romance between a rumored witch and a boy with terrible secrets, and this is a read you won’t be able to put down. I read the last act of this book completely breathless, and it delivered an ending as vivid and ensnaring as the magical woods.
Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters
Take everything you love about the woods, then put them in rural north central Florida with sweltering heat and brutal humidity. The setting makes this book stand apart from its creepy counterparts, offering a wholly different walk through the woods. You can hear the cicadas and feel the ghosts that roam through the skinny pines, and Waters’s lush prose create a hauntingly beautiful read you won’t soon forget. Ghosts lurk around every dark, creaky corner, making the setting feel fully alive. A gorgeous exploration of love and grief and home, this book wrapped itself around my heart and refused to let go. With a ghost story that made it difficult to sleep, a love triangle that made my heart ache, and a murder mystery that kept me guessing, this book became an instant favorite.
The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
This stunning novel takes witchcraft and sets it against a puritanical society that’s bordered by a forbidden Darkwood. The trees are haunted by the spirits of four powerful witches, creating a world that’s as frightening and brutal as it is magical and fierce. The main character radiates a quiet strength that made me want to follow her anywhere, even into the terrifying Darkwood—I had to fight against squeezing my eyes shut out of fear, and keeping them wide open, desperate to find out what happened next. A raw, unflinching feminist fantasy that will haunt you long after you read the last page.
So there you have it, five of my favorite haunted woods. Meet me in the trees?
Rachel Griffin writes young adult novels inspired by the magic of the world around her. She is the author of the upcoming The Nature of Witches, releasing from Sourcebooks Fire on June 1, 2021, with a second standalone novel to follow in 2022. When she isn’t writing, you can find her wandering the Pacific Northwest, reading by the fire, or drinking copious amounts of coffee and tea. She lives in the Seattle area with her husband, dog, and growing collection of houseplants.