Desert Isle Keeper
Into the Woods
a DIKlassic review
review originally published on February 22, 2001
I was a little doubtful when I picked up Into the Woods, because it’s based on the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.” Have you read it lately? “Hansel and Gretel” is about two children who are abandoned like an unwanted litter of puppies by their parents, and then fall into the hands of a witch who intends to murder and eat them. It’s a good story, because every kid knows a grown-up who’s not as nice as she first appears, but romantic it emphatically is not.
Linda Jones wisely omits the serial-killer aspects of the original fairy tale. Matilda Candy is an unconventional, beautiful woman who lives in a cottage in the woods not far from Tanglewood, Mississippi. She makes candy (which draws visits from local urchins Hanson and Gretchen) and also uses rose petals and herbs to make face creams and hair tonics. She is rumored to be a witch, and several townspeople secretly visit her, seeking advice and herbal remedies.
Declan Harper was a white-trash alcoholic’s son in Tanglewood, but now he’s rich and bent on vengeance. He intends to own everything, control everyone, and marry the prettiest girl in town, Vanessa Arrington, not so much because he wants her but because he wants to rub her domineering father’s nose in a low-class son-in-law. He doesn’t particularly care how he wins Vanessa, so he visits the local witch to obtain an love potion.
Matilda reluctantly agrees to make the aphrodisiac, and exhibits remarkable sang-froid when Declan insists that they both try it out to make sure it works. There follow several “aphrodisiac testing” scenes, which I loved because they don’t ever turn out quite the way you think they will.
During this process Declan, who is a very active and ambitious sort of guy, grows no less determined to marry Vanessa as his longing for Matilda increases. He decides that he will marry Vanessa and make Matilda his mistress. He actually has quite a bit in common with Vanessa, who would quite willingly marry Declan while keeping a hunky servant lover on the side. But soon Declan’s too caught up in Matilda for any of that.
If I had to narrow my description of this book down to one word, it would be “fun.” There’s humor here, and lots of sexy chemistry, and unexpected twists and turns in the plot. The hero and heroine are both very enjoyable, and the road to their happy-ever-after is fraught with hurdles – some of them external, but most of them stemming nicely from the personalities of the two characters. The paranormal elements of the story are subtle and woven so seamlessly into the romance that even people who don’t enjoy paranormals should still find this entertaining.
Vanessa is a villain with a capital V. Normally I would say that her wicked traits were a little over the top, but this is a fairy tale – fairy tale villains are always bad, and the female villains in particular just seethe with evil. (Hey, I don’t make the rules.) Vanessa gets a fairy-tale size punishment for her crimes – so creative and so horrible that I got that gleeful, I-almost-feel-sorry-for-you-but-not-quite feeling.
Those who look for an authentic-feeling setting should beware, however. I believe that Jones lives in the Deep South, but judging by the way Mississippi is portrayed here I would have guessed that she’d never been there. Though Jones portrays Tanglewood as a town in the middle of a drought, there’s no sense of the numbing heat of a southern summer. And the lack of any African American characters is odd – even the field hands and servants are white.
For all that, Into the Woods is perfectly charming. It finishes with a very exciting climax, and the dénouement is sweetly romantic. I enjoyed it, and I think you will too.