An intriguing, totally original book by Ali Shaw, The Trees marries reality with the fantastical in the most magical of ways, resulting in a book that is both down to earth and wonderfully human whilst still holding something of the spectacular. It begins in a suburban town just outside London, but within the first chapter, the country (and world, it seems) has been tipped upside down by the arrival of the trees. They appear very suddenly overnight, causing chaos and changing life as we know it in the blink of an eye.
Our unwilling protagonist is Adrien Thomas, and the book follows the journey of this self-proclaimed coward as well as the companions he meets whilst trying to traverse this new world. There’s nature-loving Hannah, her technology deprived son Seb, and a mysterious Japanese hunter girl (and badass) Hiroko. Adrien ‘accidentally’ sets out on a mission to find his wife when he finds out that Hannah and Seb are travelling to find Hannah’s brother; along the way the group come across mythical, or ancient, creatures (not sure which they classify as), confront death and the breakdown of social structure, and also manage to learn a lot about themselves and each other.
The Trees begins at a crawl, and at first I didn’t enjoy many of the characters – especially our antihero Adrien. This might have been because of Adrien’s lack of drive, which the book definitely plays on throughout. I mostly related to Hannah as a character at the beginning, having always also enjoyed nature, but the realisation that social norms (and their lives) have fallen apart quickly has Hannah’s love of the forest beginning to wain and wear out.
At times, Shaw’s novel is very dark; The Trees plays well on human nature and our fluctuating emotions and desires, proving that our instinctive nature is as brutal and wild as the trees that appear over night and show no signs of moving or relenting. In simple terms, The Trees delivers the wonderful, if harrowing, message that humans are still just animals, and our base desires are as savage as the natural world is. I love it.
As the book progresses, I began to feel for the characters and understand them in a more profound way as their personalities were explored, the original impressions peeled away to reveal their inner natures, strengths and weaknesses. The way that they grow to care about each other, in their little band of misfits, was the same way that I grew to care about them. It was an organic (pardon the pun) character growth that definitely made me feel more involved in their predicament, and proved that Shaw’s writing and sense of pace is excellent. By the end of the book, I couldn’t put it down – I needed to know that these people I had grown to care about were going to be alright in their new and frightening world.
Thoroughly engrossing, with a spectacular concept for a nature-lover like me (or anyone who is interested in the different ways we may see the apocalypse), The Trees grows on you like the natural world that gives the book its name: slowly, inching forward and creating solid foundations, but finishing with power and total captivation of the imagination. There is definitely something in The Trees for everyone. Verdict: 9/10.