REVIEW: Such Big Teeth (Darkwood #2) – Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

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Author: Gabby Hutchinson Crouch (twitter)

UK Publisher: Farrago

Genre: Fantasy, humour

See Also: Darkwood

If you go down to the woods today, be sure of a big surprise.

The Battle of Nearby Village is over, and deep in the Darkwood, Gretel and her friends journey into the hostile mountains of the north, seeking new allies in their fight against the huntsmen. There they find Gilde the Bear Witch, along with a Werewolf named Scarlett and a winged man named Hex. Meanwhile, Hansel and Daisy set off on a dangerous trip of their own to the Citadel, where they end up in the middle of a political battle for the future of the whole country.

Can Gretel and her friends persuade Gilde to join forces, or at least stop fighting them at every step? Can Hansel find a way to heal the land’s divisions and make the huntsmen change their ways before disaster strikes them all? And how did Trevor the spider get hold of a wig? Discover the answers to all these questions and more in Such Big Teeth.

I really, really enjoyed the chaotic satire of Darkwood, and thought that, during this time of stress and dismay, the second volume would be the perfect uplifting and cheerful read to help me relax and unwind.

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I don’t know what I expected from someone who writes for The News Quiz and other similarly political satire shows. Where these things were gently seeded in book one, the satire becomes less subtle in this book. There are going to be some spoilers for both book one, and for this instalment, although I will try to keep them to a minimum.

It follows on a fortnight after the end of Darkwood, elections for a new Head Huntsman are being held in the capital city, while the residents of Nearby and the Darkwood are worried about retribution from the Powers That Be. Buttercup, Snow, Gretel and Jack have a plan in place to try and recruit the witches of the Northern Darkwood – the Bear and Wolf witches. Meanwhile, Hansel is having visions of a monster attacking the city, and even though it’s full of Huntsmen, it’s also full of civilians, and they don’t deserve to be attacked by a monster. So he and Daisy head to the city to investigate, and see if they can stop disaster.

See if you can guess which societal elements may get translated into this fairy tale satire, and how these might feel a little near to the knuckle in the current political and social situation. On the one hand, you have the isolationist witches of the North who refuse to get involved because it doesn’t involve them. On the other, a campaign of electioneering and spin doctoring for various flavours of aggressively conservative ideologies. Unexpectedly, I think I do need to flag some potentially triggering material in terms of abusive relationships and politically negative rhetoric (it’s hard to identify exactly what, but while the vocabulary might be based around witches and magic, the intent and tone is very familiar to rhetoric heard today).

We get some more fairy tales brought into the story this time – Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood, and (one of my favourites) The Seven Ravens. Threads are teased for book three and the witch of the Western Darkwood, but I wasn’t quite able to guess which fairy tales are coming up. Keener fairy tale minds than mine might be able to suss it out, but I suppose I’ll just have to wait to be surprised!

As with any book in a trilogy (I’m blithely assuming it’s a trilogy, there’s nothing to suggest that it will be), the second book goes darker, the ending isn’t so triumphant, and the repercussions of book one are rippling through the pages here, and you can feel them building into waves that will hit in the next instalment. It was nice to see some more relationships building in this one, however, with some nice Queer rep. Sadly, as a result of the two diverging quests, we actually spent very little time in Nearby, which I fell in love with in book one. There’s arguably more important things to focus on in this book, and it’s understandable that local village colour gets put aside for actual plot, but as that provided a lot of the light relief in book one, that might be why book two feels a little more intense at times.

I may be projecting in this as well, but I wonder if she was a little bit… angrier when she wrote this? She addresses a lot of current issues in politics – disaffected voters, unfair voting systems, misrepresentation of issues for the sake of popular reactions, people who don’t care because they don’t see things as directly affecting them. Maybe I’m projecting because these things bother me, and frustrate me.

Whether intentional or not, it felt like the gloves came off a bit in this one (or at least, were exchanged for thinner, firmer gloves). I’m looking forward to seeing where book three takes us.

Briefly:

  • A worthy follow-up to Darkwood, it focuses more on furthering an overarching plot than playing with the setting. This means things seem darker, with less light relief from social observances, but makes the story push along more quickly.
  • I found particularly the scenes in the city quite infuriating and I think that’s because in my entire adult lifetime I haven’t woken up after an election and not been heartbroken and horrified. As a satirical news writer, Hutchinson Crouch will be tapped into politics and current affairs, and I imagine she’s probably felt a lot of the same frustrations I have.
  • I enjoyed seeing Hansel’s powers develop more. He’s quite a quiet character, and I sort of love that about him. Possibly as a side effect of always having to contain his powers, he seems to reduce himself, and have made himself very insular as if that would help. He starts to blossom a bit in this, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that happens as he stops being afraid of what he can do.

Rating: 4/5 – I missed spending time in Nearby, but I did enjoy seeing the scope of the world expand, even if it felt a bit near the knuckle at times!

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