by Wendy Webb
Publication Date: October 1, 2021
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
In Metsan Valo, her family home on Lake Superior, Anni Halla’s beloved grandmother has died. Among her fond memories, what Anni remembers most vividly is her grandmother’s eerie yet enchanting storytelling. By firelight she spun tall tales of spirits in the nearby forest and waters who could heal or harm on a whim. But of course those were only stories…
The reading of the will now occasions a family reunion. Anni and her twin brother, their almost otherworldly mother, and relatives Anni hasn’t seen in forever some with good reason are all brought back together under one roof that strains to hold all their tension. But it’s not just Anni’s family who is unsettled. Whispers wind through the woods. Laughter bursts from bubbling streams. Raps from unseen hands rupture on the walls. Fireflies swarm and nightmares stir. With each odd occurrence, Anni fears that her return has invited less a welcoming and more a warning.
When another tragedy strikes near home, Anni must dive headfirst into the mysterious happenings to discover the truth about her home, her family, and the wooded island’s ancient lore. Plunging into the past may be the only way to save her family from whatever bedevils Metsan Valo.
Wendy Webb is an author that shows up as similar/recommended for those that enjoy the ghost stories of Simone St. James, so when MT was headed to the library, I had him pick up the only title of hers currently available. It was a quick read, done in a day, and it kept my attention with interesting main characters and rich atmosphere, but I have a couple of thoughts about the Simone St. James comparison.
Reading the acknowledgments at the end, the author states that this book came about much different from her others, that rather than starting with a particular house, The Keepers of Metsan Valo started from a desire to write about her Finnish mythological roots. So that may, perhaps, explain why this is not a ghost story, or anything like Simone St. James. This book is best described as Magical Realism, and its more apt comparative author would be Sarah Addison Allen, or maybe at a stretch, an edgy Heather Webber.
If I’d gone into this book with that expectation, I’d probably have enjoyed it more – it’s not a bad book, and I liked her writing enough that I’d probably read another. The thing is, it appears that all the books she writes are the standalone type with overlapping characters. I realised this midway through the book when one of the characters describes the synopsis of another of Webb’s titles that I recognised from prior research. Unfortunately, the characters precedes to spoil that particular book’s plot. The mc of this book also spoils the plot of another of Webb’s books, although not quite to the same degree, I suspect. So if you want to try this author be aware that if you don’t start with the first of her books you may get more information about prior plots than you’d prefer. The good news is that the town of Wharton is delightful, so reading more books set there might be enough to soften prior knowledge.
There were moments where the author got overly sentimental, and the characters all got a fairy tale happy ending which, for me, blunted my enjoyment of the book. I like a HEA, but I prefer a realistic one, and this one was not realistic, and I’m not talking about the mystical elements. This family came together with a lot of tension and they went away all happy-happy-joy-love with absolutely no effort in between. It was all way too neat and pat. Putting that aside though, there was enough to like that, as I said earlier, I’d read one more.