Samuel and his younger sister Martha’s lives change suddenly when a car accident kills their parents right in front of them. Martha is so traumatized that she stops speaking. Before they know it they are sent to live with their closest relative, Aunt Eda, in faraway Norway. Aunt Eda welcomes them warmly, but the small village where she lives on the edge of a mysterious forest does not. Aunt Eda’s husband, Uncle Henrik, disappeared into that forest years ago and never returned. He was not the first.
Despite all Aunt Eda’s worries and warnings to stay out of the forest, before long both children are enticed into it by the magical creatures there, first Martha, then Samuel. Once inside they cannot find their way out, or find each other. They are among terrifying magical creatures. Only a book that Samuel has brought along has some clues about how to deal with the forest inhabitants, and he soon loses it. At the heart of the forest is another human, the author of the book, Professor Tanglewood, who has taken control of the forest and its magic through evil and cruel methods. He calls himself The Changemaker because he has made what was once beautiful into a place of terror. His servant is the Shadow Witch, and soon she is after the human children. If she is able to steal their shadows they will be changed for the worse, like so many others.
I enjoyed this book. The characters are mostly well-developed and believable. Only Professor Tanglewood is somewhat two-dimensional, though his background and reasons for being the way he is are detailed. The magic and creatures are built around Norse legends, which adds depth. The plot is complex and something of a thrill ride that at times stretches credulity, but generally it kept me reading.