“Winterset Hollow” by Jonathan Edward Durham

Winterset Hollow

Jonathan Edward Durham
Credo House Publishers (2021)
ISBN 1625862083
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (05/2022)

In Jonathan Edward Durham’s “Winterset Hollow,” three friends are given the opportunity of a lifetime when they go on a trip to Addington Isle, the inspiration and setting behind their favorite book. Eamon, Caroline, and Mark are all excited about the weekend trip to the Isle, along with a myriad of additional “Winterset Hollow” fans of various ages and backgrounds. When they reach the Isle, however, things quickly go awry. After everyone races to seek shelter from an oncoming storm, a startling discovery is made: the old, abandoned Addington Mansion is not abandoned at all. It is inhabited, in fact, by the very characters they have loved their whole lives: Runny, the rabbit; Finn, the fox; Flackwell, the frog; and Bing, the bear. The astonished and bewildered group prepares to spend a special Barley Day feasting with their favorite, very real characters, but there is a catch. Barley Day is not just a festival—it is a hunt, and Eamon, Caroline, Mark and the other tourists are the prey.

“Winterset Hollow” is like “Alice in Wonderland” meets “Cabin in the Woods.” On one hand, our main characters are achieving the dream of a lifetime by not only traveling to Addington Isle, but learning that the characters of their favorite book are, in fact, frighteningly, fantastically alive and real. On the other, they are not the sweet, innocent group that the book portrays them to be. The truth is that these animals are desperate for revenge on the humans, who are referred to as “buffalo,” in Addington’s book, that caused them and their families unspeakable suffering. The human characters of the book are to be picked off, one by one, until a grave “debt” has been paid.

One thing that quite endeared me to “Winterset Hollow” was Eamon’s quest to understand why Runny, Finn, Flackwell and Bing seemed so intent on killing him, his friends, and the rest of the tour group. Plus, they are not the first ones to be part of the hunt of Barley Day. In fact, it is something that happens every year. Even though they are fighting to stay alive and experiencing unspeakable horrors; suffering catastrophic injuries; and witnessing the brutal deaths of the other members of the tour group, the predators in the book are not simply written off as evil, savage animals.

Instead, we learn that the furry and amphibious friends of “Winterset Hollow” endured years of enslaved captivity only to learn that the families they were trying to save were brutally slaughtered anyway, their heads and furs and pelts taken and mounted as trophies on the walls of a special room in the mansion. The revenge they sought on human visitors to Addington Isle mirrored the suffering they felt over a century earlier.

“Winterset Hollow” is a beautifully gruesome tale which reminds us that perhaps it is best if our favorite fictional worlds remain fictional. It also carries stark reminders of how human society has not only wreaked unspeakable pain on animal populations and habitats throughout history and around the world, but against other humans as well. Throughout the book, for example, I was reminded often of the forced migrations of Native Americans to reservations, which were only decreased to smaller and smaller sizes, and which still did not seem to save innocents from being slaughtered by the “white man’s armies.” That pain is still felt in Native American communities across the country today.

Recommended for fans of horror and suspense (and those who are not faint of heart), this captivating tale is sure to find a home on the favorite bookshelves of a wide array of readers of all backgrounds and ages.

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