Review: Savage Woods by Mary SanGiovanni

Print Length:
Publisher: Lyrical Underground (September 26, 2017)

From Nilhollow—six-hundred-plus acres of haunted woods in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens—is the stuff of urban legend. Amid tales of tree spirits and all-powerful forest gods are frightening accounts of hikers who went insane right before taking their own lives. It is here that Julia Russo flees when her violent ex-boyfriend runs her off the road . . . here that she vanishes without a trace.

State Trooper Peter Grainger has witnessed unspeakable things that have broken other men. But he has to find Julia and can’t turn back now. Every step takes him closer to an ugliness that won’t be appeased—a centuries-old, devouring hatred rising up to eviscerate humankind. Waiting, feeding, surviving. It’s unstoppable. And its time has come.


My Rating: 2 stars out of 5

Once again, I have been drawn into a perfectly written synopsis only to have the book turn out to be less than stellar. I've had this issue before with this author, but I decided to give her another chance specifically because this story was centered in the Pine Barrens. 

I live in the Pine Barrens. And let me tell you, there is definitely something creepy about these woods at night. Yes, people go missing in the Pines, yes it is rumored that the Mafia used it for a dumping ground years ago, and yes, a lot of people from Jersey (especially those who live in or near the Pines) will tell you they believe the Jersey Devil exists. So when you take a place as ripe as that and put together a story of a fictional place existing within, then add Lenni-Lenape legends, tree spirits and an unspeakable horror living within, you have all the makings of a best seller right? 

Apparently not. 

To begin with the synopsis calls Nilhollow a six-hundred-plus acreage of woods located in the Pine Barrens. Except, as you read the story it is repeatedly said that Nilhollow is much smaller, about a mile or so. People trapped there keep thinking they should have reached the road by now, and when a search party is finally formed, it is one that is considerably too small to search over 600 acres, but perfectly suited to a mile or so. 

Then it seems like the location keeps changing. And I'll be honest here, someone who doesn't live in the Pine Barrens probably wouldn't notice this. But to someone who grew up next to Brendan Byrne State Forest (formerly Lebanon State Forest), who knows exactly where the Pasadena brick factory ruins are (as well as the actual name), and who has passed the Red Lion State Police barracks on their way to spend weeks at Atsion - you notice these things. And it seems like the author cannot make up her mind. Is Nilhollow on Brendan Byrne as the beginning of the story would suggest, or is it on the Atsion side of Wharton as it seems later on? 

But perhaps, my biggest problem with this story is that the all-powerful tree spirits that guard Nilhollow sound like a rip off of the character Groot from the movie Guardians of the Galaxy. If you have seen the movie, or even just know who the character is, it is impossible to read the description and NOT immediately think of the character. It seems a poorly thought out idea, when there were so many other ways the author could have gone about it. 

For fans of gory, well described scenes of chaos and mutilation - this story will likely be right up their alley. The author definitely knows how to tell a story in the broad sense, however it is in the details that she gets tripped up. 

Overall, I am sure this story may still appeal to fans of horror novels. 

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. This has not affected my review in any way. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are 100% my own.

                                 Savage Woods is available from

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