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Reviewed by Nell Mace-David
Opening sentence
A spellbinding tale of daring and danger
‘They said there is nothing so beautiful as that tree; it glows in the forest like a bridge between this world and the next. If you sleep under its boughs, you will dream the most beautiful dreams…’

In The Candle Trees by Anthony Holcroft, 16-year-old Julia is thrilled at the prospect of visiting her beloved Uncle Fred at his estate, Villa Rosa. Unfortunately, neither Uncle Fred, nor the Villa Rosa live up to Julia’s expectations. So, when the chance to do something interesting comes up, in the form of a horseback ride to the nearby forest, Julia jumps at the chance.

Suddenly, Julia finds herself alone in this magical and very bewildering place with no clue how to get out. To make matters worse, she is also injured, and in this unpredictable jungle, there is no telling how long she will last.

The only hope she has is to find the mystical Candle Trees, a family legend which apparently have magical healing properties. But in this dangerous forest, Julia isn’t alone. She will meet both friends and foes along the way. Will she achieve the ultimate goal of survival?

Holcroft has spun a wonderfully mysterious story with a strong female lead.

When I say mysterious, I really mean it. There was something almost ethereal about it. Holcroft did an amazing job of expressing the wonder that the Candle Trees create. The confusion and fear of being lost were also well communicated. This book gave me some big Hatchet vibes, in the whole fight for survival aspect. Once the story got going, it was never slow, there was always something happening, and even before things happened you could feel the apprehension, with some foreshadowing preparing you for what’s to come.

As much as I enjoyed the atmosphere of the book, I did struggle a bit with the format. Most of the book is Julia’s diary, except for the first and last chapters which are from her great-grandson Julian’s point of view. I think this would have worked better if we saw a bit more of Julian and learned a bit more about Julian and Julia’s relationship, which felt a bit disconnected. I also got a bit confused when Julia would write in her diary about writing, and it would seem like things were happening in the present moment, when really, she was only writing about them later.

I also struggled to connect to this book because of the language. I know that it is a historical fantasy, but the old-fashioned language made it seem a bit aloof for a while, and I didn’t end up getting into the story until about halfway through.

Some of the views presented in the story, not by Julia, but by some of the other side characters such as her father and uncle, were a bit racist towards the native tribal peoples of where the story was set. This was old-fashioned, and could come across as offensive, as they weren’t even really a side plot. I don’t think that Holcroft was aiming to offend, I think he was just trying to achieve a truthful view of this time, but I don’t think they were either successful or necessary. It would have been just as good without them.

Once I got to know her, I was a big fan of Julia. Often in an adventure story set in this time period, the main character is male, so it is nice to have a strong female lead being just as able to deal with difficult situations as anyone else.

All in all, though this book may not have been for me, I did enjoy it. The idea was great, but the execution could have been better. I would recommend this book to someone who wants something short and escapist, any lover of historical fantasy, or anyone aged 12 and up. Happy reading!

– Nell is 14, homeschooled, and lives in Dunedin.
Publisher: Quentin Wilson Publishing
ISBN: 9780995143708
Format: Paperback
Publication: 2022
Ages: 12+
Themes: Historical, South America