The Devil Tree by Steve Vernon is an alternate history horror story set in the 1800’s. The story begins with Lucas and his wife Tamsen as they are floating down a stream in a raft looking for a place to settle after having to leave their home in shame. The raft hits a log and the couple is thrown into the flowing current. They are rescued by a man named Duvall and brought to a strange valley which is ruled by a giant Jackpine.
Marcus and Tamsen are nursed back to health by Duvall, his wife Jezebel and their son Cord. The valley seems like it could be a good place to start a new life but the giant tree that stands above the valley has plans for them. Everyone has their secrets and the tree feeds upon their emotions.
That’s all I can say about the story in The Devil Tree because it was a little hard to follow. The characters go through quite a few changes in the story, Duvall is shown as being good, then bad then good again and Lucas also seems to change from good to bad. Tamsen stays the same throughout but we find out that she has done some very bad things in the past. The story is about the characters and because the character’s personalities are constantly changing it makes for a confusing story.
Other things I didn’t like about The Devil Tree was how for awhile it looked like Cord was going to be a big part of the story but then nothing was done with him. I also didn’t like how Tamsen declares her love for Duvall but then acts afraid of Duvall a little later in the story and Lucas doesn’t seem to care. Another thing that doesn’t get explained well was the tree’s power, why it was there in the first place or what it was trying to do. I wondered if maybe the tree wasn’t controlling the people in the valley and they were going crazy because they were the only ones there and it was their guilt about their past that was ruining everything.
Despite my confusion with the story there was a lot I did like about The Devil Tree. I enjoyed how metaphors were used, along with how complex the characters were and I liked how everything was described in the story. The opening where the valley was discovered was beautifully done. I also liked when Lucas and Tamsen’s raft capsized and you see how much they love each other as they fight to survive.
Also if you are into horror there are some gruesome scenes such as the the final battle with the tree and the description of the fight between Lucas and Duvall. The way the characters are all battling their inner demons was also frightening. This book is very dark, I found myself feeling creeped out near the end when it looks like Lucas has finally lost his mind.
I realize my review here is a contradiction but despite its flaws I found myself not wanting to put this book down. It is very well written and I will want to read more from Steve Vernon. It takes a little while to get going and has some story flaws but The Devil Tree is a psychological horror story that you won’t want to put down.