It is difficult to know just how to properly review this second volume in Danielewski’s massive series-in-progress. It is so inseparably tied to the first book that to describe the plot that is forming would take far too long and, more importantly, would give too much away. Plus, there are parts of the story that have thus far been presented in such a minimalistic and abstract fashion that I’m not exactly sure what is going on yet, though I have confidence these things will be revealed over time. I’ve learned from experience that Danielewski may set up a lot of mysteries for his readers, but he also always pays them off eventually.
I can say that after finishing Into the Forest, I am more excited than ever for this series to keep going. As other reviewers have said, stepping into Volume 2 is much easier because the reader has already tackled the hurdle of understanding the structure and flow of the books by reading Volume 1. With that obstacle out of the way, it frees up the reader to move through the story more quickly and naturally, keeping out a keen eye for clues and hints that the author may be leaving for us.
If Volume 1 introduced us to the gigantic mythos Danielewski is building, Volume 2 cracked it open that much wider and revealed that things are only going to get more trippy from here. We’ve also been shown a little more of the pure enormity of scale that this series is going to encompass (paranormal or multi-dimensional creatures? Possible computer-simulated lives?? A young girl who is coming untethered from our world and crossing over into another one??? These aren't spoilers because they're only my best guesses and may be wholly incorrect). I confess, my limited brain could imagine perhaps another seven or eight volumes finishing out this story (judging by the arc it has taken so far), but to think that the author has another twenty-five volumes in store for us is mind-blowing, and I cannot wait to see what he’s come up with.
But Volume 2 is not just better because it’s weirder, more violent, and goes into new territory with the creative formatting. It also delved deeper into the hearts of the characters, which I think is key with a story of this size. It would be one thing for the author to make a massive series that had crazy formatting with strange convoluted text and images just to be pretentious or “for the sake of art,” but Danielewski has shown us yet again that he is also a good writer who can tell a good story and craft lifelike characters. The Familiar would not get very far if we didn’t care about at least some of the people at the heart of the tale. And I do.
I guess that’s about all I can say. If you liked Volume 1, you pretty much cannot go wrong with Volume 2. I think it will solidify your faith in the series that much more, and you’ll be patiently waiting with the rest of us to get your hands on Volume 3. If you are somehow reading this without even having read Volume 1 of The Familiar, get it into your life right now. It will undoubtedly be one of the most unique reading experiences you are likely to have.