Title: Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Publication date: 23 June 2020
Genre: Fantasy | Young Adult
Page extent: 400 pages
Goodreads blurb: Danger lurks within the roots of Forest of Souls, an epic, unrelenting tale of destiny and sisterhood, perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Susan Dennard.
Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training to become the queen’s next royal spy, her plans are derailed when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.
And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.
Unveiled as the first soulguide in living memory, Sirscha is summoned to the domain of the Spider King. For centuries, he has used his influence over the Dead Wood—an ancient forest possessed by souls—to enforce peace between the kingdoms. Now, with the trees growing wild and untamed, only a soulguide can restrain them. As war looms, Sirscha must master her newly awakened abilities before the trees shatter the brittle peace, or worse, claim Saengo, the friend she would die for.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve been quite disappointed in a number of recent YA fantasy reads, so I was quite nervous going into this one. But I was absolutely enthralled with this world! Forest of Souls is an action packed, fast paced, creepy forest driven fantasy. I can definitely see where the comp to Naomi Novik comes from, this felt very reminiscent of Uprooted, which I also loved. I’m so happy this turned out to be just as exciting as I wanted.
Forest of Souls is a magic driven world, with shamans born into five seperate callings. Sirscha discovers she is a lightwender when her best friend dies in battle, and then Sirscha brings her back to life. Ronin, an incredibly powerful shaman who is the only thing keeping three kingdoms from ouright war, summons Sirscha to the Dead Wood. The Dead Wood is a terrifying, alive forest where trapped souls strain to be free. He wants Sirscha’s help to control the souls to ensure he remains all powerful enough to keep the kingdoms from war.
It’s definitely a complex plot and world that isn’t as common in YA, and is something more usually seen in adult fantasy (which could be why I enjoyed this so much since I’m on a very strong adult fantasy binge right now). There is a huge magic system, lots of history regarding Ronin and the creation of the Dead Wood, and the history and politics of the three kingdoms, all of which need to be explained to really understand what’s happening. Because of the amount of information needed, it’s hard to avoid info-dumps, but I found them really intriguing and interesting. I think this was particularly helped my the voice of our main character, Sirscha. This book is first person POV, all told by Sirscha. She has a very easy and accessible voice, so the info dumps didn’t really feel like you were being overwhelmed with lots of information, it was really easy to get through and find out about the fascinating world.
The book is absolutely action packed and is very fast paced, which I really enjoyed. I absolutely raced through the book. There’s lots of new information and twists that help the surging of the plot. I think it’s definitely more of an action driven narrative than character driven. There’s not huge amounts of time to get to know the side characters because Sirscha is charging all over the place trying to save her kingdom. It’s a very different kind of fantasy to what I usually read (heavy character driven books), but I still found it thoroughly enjoyable.
Of the characters, I do have a soft spot for Ronin. Troubled, brooding characters are just the best. He doesn’t spend huge amounts of time on page but he still manages to have such a presence when we see him. Between him and the atmosphere from the woods, I think that’s what gave me the very strong Novik vibes. Which I am not complaining about at all because I love this vibe. The forest is a really scary and creepy place, the faces on the trees screaming ‘Run’ is definitely an image I’m not going to forget for a while!
All in all, I really enjoyed this book! It’s very different to the fantasy I usually read, but I thought it was a really well written, fast paced, action centric fantasy, with a fun voice and full of lots of atmospheric dead forests and brooding men! It’s definitely one of my favourite YA fantasies of the year so far!