Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Forest is an exciting fantasy by Matt Haig. Samuel, 12, and his 10-year-old sister, Martha, live in Nottingham with their parents. As the story opens the family is in the car, heading for a surprise destination to celebrate Martha’s birthday. His sister is singing, his parents are arguing over the map and Samuel is hoping they aill arrive at a theme park. And then, in a bizarre twist of fate involving a truck hauling logs, Samuel and Martha’s parents are killed in a freak car accident, although both children are physically unhurt.
Martha not only stops singing, she no longer talks at all after the death of her parents. Their mother’s sister, Aunt Eda, as their only living relative, sends for them and they travel to Norway to live with her. Eda is stern in appearance, has a Norwegian elkhound named Ibsen and no TV or computer. Samuel is determined to hate everything about her and the place where he must live. It doesn’t help that he neither speaks nor understands Norwegian. Eda, a former Olympic javelin thrower, was married to an Olympic Silver Medalist ski jumper who, unbeknownst to the children, disappeared into the forest behind the house many years ago. Aunt Eda also has a list of rules they are required to follow, two of which (#1 Never go up to the attic; and #9 NEVER–UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES–GO INTO THE FOREST) really intrigue Samuel. It doesn’t take long for Samuel to break the first rule, and this unwittingly leads to breaking rule #9.
The story is rich with human and fantasy characters. We meet huldre-folk who live underground and serve the evil Changemaker. There are singing Tomtegubbs, three-headed Calooshes, Slemps, Truth Pixies and Trolls. The twists and turns in the plot are sometimes delightful and occasionally terrifying. The presence of both good and evil are evident throughout the forest and its inhabitants.
Haig also has a wonderful sense of humor which can often cause the reader to chuckle aloud. The jail scene with the unfailingly cheerful Tomtegubb and the Two-Headed Troll is a gut-buster. And the family of One-Eyed Trolls who must share one eyeball among them, passing it back and forth to see, is almost Monty Python-esque in the way silliness is laced with the disgusting image.
The strength of the story as a whole is its ability to lead Samuel on a journey through the sadness and anger of losing his parents, to a place of new hope where he can begin to re-discover happiness and love and family with Martha and Aunt Eda in a way he never expected.