Fans of C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series will find a new story to love in Laura E. Weymouth’s debut The Light Between the Worlds. There is a classical feel of magic suffused within the pages, but also the darkness that comes from being thrust out of your world and having to find your place in a new one.
Set during in 1940’s England and told in dual perspectives between two sisters, both sharing more than they realize, Weymouth’s debut earns its place among other literary tales of alternate worlds and the magic that exists in whatever world you inhabit.
Published: 23 October 2018
Category: Fantasy/Young Adult/Historical Fiction
Five years ago, Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell cowered from air strikes in a London bomb shelter. But that night took a turn when the sisters were transported to another realm called the Woodlands. In a forest kingdom populated by creatures out of myth and legend, they found temporary refuge.
When they finally returned to London, nothing had changed at all—nothing, except themselves.
Now, Ev spends her days sneaking into the woods outside her boarding school, wishing for the Woodlands. Overcome with longing, she is desperate to return no matter what it takes.
Philippa, on the other hand, is determined to find a place in this world. She shields herself behind a flawless exterior and countless friends, and moves to America to escape the memory of what was.
But when Evelyn goes missing, Philippa must confront the depth of her sister’s despair and the painful truths they’ve been running from. As the weeks unfold, Philippa wonders if Ev truly did find a way home, or if the weight of their worlds pulled her under.
Content warnings are available at www.lauraeweymouth.com/books
Rating: 4 Stars
Content Warning (provided by the author’s website; please highlight to reveal due to possible spoilers) “The Light Between Worlds portrays characters dealing with depression, self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, illness and disordered eating, and the loss of a loved one. It refers to possible suicide, contains scenes of violence and war, and brief mentions may be unsettling to readers with emetophobia.” *end CW
Part One of The Light Between the Worlds is told from Evelyn’s perspective. The youngest of the Hapwell siblings, it is she that finds the Woodlands most comforting. It’s something that Philippa and Jamie, despite having experienced that world with her, fail to understand most of the time, especially when they return to England.
The ache that Evelyn felt for the Woodlands felt intensely relatable. The Woodlands was the first place she’d found that was home, having been less than understood in England and then displaced by the bombings of World War II. The constant moving around, ostensibly for her safety, made it difficult to find anything in “our” world that felt as comforting, as true to her own heart, as the world that she found in that birch clearing.
Searching for someplace that is as home to us, that calls to our hearts as wholly as that enchanted place, can be incredibly difficult, as some readers may well understand. Wandering through the world, going through the motions of our lives like Evelyn did at school, gardening, attending classes, and so forth…all of it feels easily like life these days, trying to find what peace we can in an otherwise terrifying world that seems to have no place for us.
I’M AFRAID OF WHO I’M BECOMING. I CATCH MYSELF singing when I cross the back field, early in the mornings, to visit the cows. There’s something inside me—a glad, bright feeling, fragile and lovely as a dew-spangled cobweb, and I’m terrified.
Reading through Evelyn’s grief and depression was at times difficult. It resonates through her, even in the “light” times of spring and summer. It was almost like Seasonal Affective Disorder in the way she experienced the waves of emotions related to the world she was forced to leave. Even in good times there was a lingering fear. It’s hard, when you’ve been encapsulated by grief and depression for so long, to begin to feel better. What passes for normal can be so different from how you’ve been coping it can be an entirely different sort of terrifying to the pit you’ve been in.
Part Two of the book is told from Philippa’s point of view. After Evelyn’s disappearance, there are many questions, almost none of which can be answered because there were few people that knew Evelyn to begin with and none better than Philippa herself. Despite all that transpired between them, anger and bitterness and betrayal, there are answers needed and the narrative follows along as Philippa tries to find out, one way or the other, what happened.
It was lucky that there was Philippa to try and to believe in Evelyn, even considering how they’d left things before Evelyn’s disappearance and Philippa going off to school. Jamie, their elder brother, never seemed to have the ideas that Philippa did regarding their sister. That highlighted, among other instances, how much weight there’s been on Philippa, always. Keeping things together, finding answers, it falls onto her shoulders.
Despite recognizing her strengths, it was more difficult to like Philippa, even if understanding her was relatively simple. There’s a lot that happens that would be spoilers, but suffice it to say, I thought she made a great many mistakes regarding Evelyn, both before and after the Woodlands. The understanding comes in that, I get where she and some of her family were coming from, encouraging her to try school abroad and the like. And yet, there’s still a bone deep betrayal that never sits right, even after the end.
Powder and pumps. Jamie once told Evelyn that’s all I’m interested in since the Woodlands, but what he doesn’t realize is that you can wear powder like a shield, and wield the right lipstick like a sword.
I will give her credit in that, for what Susan of The Chronicles of Narnia was apparently criticized for after her adventures (I’ve only read books 1-3), Philippa understood how to make the world, whichever one she was in, work for her. There was a lot of strength in her character and, despite not liking her much, I can admire her ability to cope. I only wish she’d extended some of that courtesy to Evelyn.
There were some pacing issues in both parts that made things feel like they dragged on a bit, but it wasn’t wholly unpleasant, just frustrating. The world building was not my favorite in terms of uniqueness, but what there was was exquisite as Weymouth moved between them, showing the passage of time and how it affected our two different main characters. The writing in and of itself was so good that I found myself wishing there were more books by this author. That is the tragedy of reading a debut book so close to publication: the waiting until there’s (hopefully) more.
While there are tough moments throughout, as detailed in the Content Warnings section above, I really think this book will be a favorite as it showcases grief, betrayal, duty, sibling relationships, and identity.
Whether in our world or the Woodlands, times can be difficult and finding the magic in each day may well be the only way to move forward.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.
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