The Skull in the Woods by Sandra Greaves

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The Skull in the Woods by Sandra Greaves

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Margaret Young
Reviewed by Margaret Young
Summary: When warring cousins, Matt and Tilda discover a buried skull in Old Scratch Wood the moors become a terrifying place. In order to put things right, they will have to bury much more than the old skull. Ideal for those who enjoy modern stories infused with British folklore.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 266 Date: September 2013
Publisher: Chicken House
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1908435620

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Shortlisted for Waterstone's Best Fiction for 5-12s 2014

Dartmoor wasn't exactly Matt's first choice as a place to spend his school holidays. He barely knows his Uncle or cousins, and there was obviously some bad blood between members of the family. But his father was away for the summer, as were most of his friends and he couldn't stand another day in the house with his mother's new boyfriend, especially as their relationship was dashing any hopes Matt might have held of his parents ever reuniting. But whatever the trouble may have been between Matt's mother and his now dead Aunt Rose, his Uncle Jack has welcomed Matt into his home and treated the boy with all the kindness one might expect for a prodigal son. His youngest cousin Kitty seems delighted to have a new member of the family to play with as well, but Tilda, who is near his own age can't stand him and is determined to have this interloping city dweller out of the way as quickly as possible. Matt treats Tilda with same contempt, with the two children carrying on where their feuding parents left off.

Things get worse when the children dig up an strange skull wrapped in cloth in Old Scratch Wood. Crazy old Gabe tries to warn them of curses and a creature called the Gabbleratchet. Bits of ancient folklore are woven into this story as the gabble ratchet is a hellhound from ancient myth, also known as Gabriel Hounds. The author keeps the description of this beast vague, just as the ancient myths do, as those who see it rarely live to tell the tale. Small details of the story will be familiar to anyone who knows the old folktales, but I especially like the author's own unique twist on these tales as well.

Tilda and Matt's hatred for each other has awoken an ancient evil. Have they discovered the skull by chance - or has the gabble ratchet led them to an artefact steeped in hate to help gather its own full strength. The hounds of hell have been roused from their sleep but their quarry is human souls. Will the hounds have the death they crave to send them back to their rest - or will Matt and Tilda find a way to put aside past grudges and hatred, healing the family and land with it?

There are some aspects of this book I truly loved. I do like a book with a moral, and this one very clearly shows the price of hatred. It shows how petty cruelty can advance into something so much worse, and that rancour does more damage to the one holding the grudge than to the victim of such ill will. Hatred is an evil that metaphorically devours the bearer from within, even as the hounds seek to devour them in a more literal fashion. As in real life, hatred's greatest ally is pride, and it is only through swallowing their pride and reaching out to each other that these children have any chance of turning back the tide of evil.

On the downside, the constant bickering and petty nastiness of the main characters did make it difficult to feel strongly for either of them until well into the book. While my children found some of the wicked tricks they played on each other amusing, they grew bored with the arguing, and the self pity put them off as well, causing them to lose interest in the book before really reaching the good parts. All the same, I know I would have absolutely loved this as a child, so much depends on individual tastes, as well as the ability to stick with the book. Even as an adult, I did enjoy this but I do feel this would best suit tweens to teens. I would only recommend this to adults who share my own fascination with British myths and legends.

This starts very slowly, with perhaps a bit too much selfishness and whinging, but the sense of foreboding is developed perfectly. What starts as that wee niggling fear at the back of your mind progresses into outright terror and an oppressive sense of evil. The author has given just enough description of the landscape for the reader to perfectly envision the darkened moors, shrouded in fog with terrifying sounds in the distance without going over the top and boring us with overstatement. This is the author's first work, and I do feel there is room for a bit of polish and refinement, but this does show real talent, which becomes more apparent the further you get into get into the story. I am quite certain this is an author we will be seeing a lot more of in the future. This is haunting story which brings to life a little known tale from the legends of the past, and integrates it perfectly into a modern setting.

If this book appeals then you'll also enjoy:

The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper

Haunted by Susan Cooper, Joseph Delaney, Berlie Doherty, Jamila Gavin, Matt Haig, Robin Jarvis, Derek Landy, Sam Llewellyn, Mal Peet, Philip Reeve and Eleanor Updale

Buy The Skull in the Woods by Sandra Greaves at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Skull in the Woods by Sandra Greaves at

Buy The Skull in the Woods by Sandra Greaves at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Skull in the Woods by Sandra Greaves at


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