Into the Heartless Wood

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Into the Heartless Wood Book Poster Image
Gripping romantic fantasy is dark, lyrical, violent.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Fantasy meant to entertain.

Positive Messages

Even if it seems like you don't have a choice, you always have the power or the option to choose what you do and how you do it. You can change what you are, no matter what you think you were meant to be. Explores the difference between having a heart and having a soul, what each does to you and for you, and what not having either one or both does to you.

Positive Role Models

Owen, 17, is a great role model for compassion, courage, and curiosity. He dotes on his 2-year-old sister, enjoys helping his astronomer father, and takes care of the household since his mother disappeared. Seren doesn't think she's capable of resisting her mother's commands or that she'll ever be anything but a monster. She tries avoiding the problem by running away, but learns that that doesn't make the problem go away. She proves that she's willing to sacrifice everything instead of continuing to do her mother's evil bidding.


Fantasy violence includes fantasy creatures using their power and strength to kill people, mostly by tossing them around. The sounds of bones breaking, lots of blood, and pain are described in some detail. Torture in the fantasy realm includes ripping skin off, snapping fingers off, and a device boring into the victim's chest that leaves open holes behind. Blood and pain are described. Sex and violence are briefly paired once when a couple kisses and the fantasy creature accidentally caresses too hard and draws blood. Two characters pull out their own hearts. A large-scale battle involves intense descriptions of injuries from swords, fire, and magic. 


A few kisses, mention of bodies pressing together, caressing, and holding hands. Talk about bedding a woman with a "rude gesture." A kiss is briefly paired with violence when accidentally caressing cheeks too hard and drawing blood.


Very rarely, "damned" and "hell."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Into the Heartless Wood is a fantasy romance with lots of violence between a human boy and a magical siren of the forest. All the violence is in the fantasy realm and includes descriptions of blood, bones breaking, and pain in some detail. Sexual content includes a brief pairing with violence when the siren accidentally caresses the boy's cheek too hard and draws blood. Otherwise there are a few kisses and some romantic dynamics. The only strong language is a few instances of "damned" and "hell." Losing a parent is a prominent theme.

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What's the story?

Owen Merrick, 17, goes INTO THE HEARTLESS WOOD, even knowing it's ruled by a powerful, dark witch, when he finds evidence that his baby sister has wandered into it. Owen's mother was lost to the wood a year ago, falling victim to the magical songs of the tree sirens, daughters of the dark witch who lure people in and steal their souls. When Owen does meet one of the tree sirens, she doesn't kill him and instead saves his and his sister's lives. Despite the dangers, Owen can't forget the tree siren and returns to the wood each night to meet with her. As Owen teaches Seren about the human world, their feelings for each other grow, until they become embroiled in the long struggle between the witch of the wood and the neighboring king who's trying to keep her ever-growing forest at bay. Owen tries desperately to keep his family together, and Seren tries to break free of her mother's clutches and become something other than a monster. Until their two worlds clash in ferocious battle with the fate of their world at stake.

Is it any good?

This is a beautifully written, epic romantic fantasy feels like a dark fairy tale wrapped up in an imaginative world that feels both familiar and completely original. Fantasy fans who can handle the violence are sure to find a lot to enjoy about Into the Heartless Wood. Author Joanna Ruth Meyer's prose is often lyrical, though sometimes a bit overwrought, and her talents for description and world building are especially strong. The story is gripping, and alternating between Owen and Seren as narrators gives added insight into each of their worlds as it keeps the pages turning. Teens especially will relate to the themes of trying to become something other than you were made to be, what it means to have a heart and a soul, and more.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Into the Heartless Wood. How much is too much? Does it matter if it's in the fantasy world or not?

  • Is Owen a positive role model? What are his character strengths and weaknesses? Did you like him?

  • Why are fantasies so popular? What do we love about them? What are some of your favorite fantasy books?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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