“There’s a kind of freedom in defiance.”
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.
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 is a fierce, strong female who knows how to fight, and to hurt anyone foolish enough to face her in battle. An orphan who grew up without any family, she is constantly looking for a place to call home. Sirscha is a girl that is always playing a part, living most of her life the way others would want her to.
Her magic is still unknown and unfamiliar, but her good heart pushes her to embrace it and use it to help her people. This same magic brought her best friend Saengo back to life after an unfortunate encounter with assassins, creating a sort of mental and emotional connection between the two. I like that Sirscha respected Saengo’s privacy and always made an effort to define their boundaries. Sirscha’s search for knowledge on magic and her country’s history will involve a lot of dangerous adventures with or without Saengo, and it warms my heart that the pursuit also included reading books and researching in the library.
In terms of world building, I admit I was confused at times because of the multiple kingdoms, races, families and a lot of other details. The non-spoiler glossary at the beginning of the book really helped with this. The story is set in a kingdom held together not by peaceful harmony but by a common fear. Souls are a source of magic, but in Evewyn where Sirscha grew up, all kinds of magic are banned and all shamanborn (those born with powers) are either imprisoned, banished, or worst case scenario: killed.
So yes, there is violence here, but somehow it is extreme without being distasteful, and is even satisfying at times. It’s hard to find that balance between brave content and needless violence. We need to be especially mindful here since this is supposed to be a young adult novel, and I thought the author did a good job on it.
I liked how the guards / soldiers / fighters would always include females, and that females are treated as equals. It is refreshing to read a young adult fantasy with no overly sexualized romance and objectified male and female bodies. I love all the friendships between Sirscha and Saengo and Phaut. There is also a very low-key but very promising love triangle going on (of course it’s possible that this is just me but please allow me my imaginings).
“The ignorance bred fear.”
“Danger makes you deadly. She’d misunderstood. It had never been danger. It was fear.”
As always with high fantasy, the story starts really out of this world but then reveals itself to be so relevant to current events. Forest of Souls explored the culture of fear and ignorance and how it relates to people having misplaced judgment and discrimination towards people outside of their own race.
We read about a powerful leader bent on manipulating the truth in order to maintain their influence. We have minority groups with their basic human (or in this case shamanborn) rights taken away from them. We have innocent people suffering from the effects of war that they don’t fully understand. We have the well-meaning individuals that think they are keeping the peace, without realizing that neutrality can never mean peace. Rather it is in direct support of the oppressor.
“I’d had the advantage of not being directly affected. It’s so very easy to look the other way when it isn’t you. How thoughtless I’d been. But I no longer have the luxury of ignorance.”
“My loyalty remains with Evewyn. With its people. Human and shamanborn alike, those forsaken by our queen. My loyalties have not shifted–they have simply grown beyond myself.”
This novel reminds us of our duty to the greater good, and not for any individual’s sake regardless if they are leaders that we have sworn our loyalties to. Leaders are meant to serve the people, not themselves.
“My worth will never be tied to what others make of me.”
It was a joy to see Sirscha’s character development from a highly talented but insecure soldier into a whole person with confidence in her abilities and her heart. I still wish I could have seen more of Queen Meilyr–she was always at the shadows. I also need more of Sirscha’s mentor and sword master Kendara. I couldn’t wait to meet them again on the next books. I am also looking forward to knowing more about Sirscha’s lineage and her mastery of her craft.
Lastly, the author has been very clear in her statement that Forest of Souls is not an Asian fantasy. The characters are coded to be Asian but their world is a mix of Western medieval fantasy and Hmong cultural references. She did emphasize the need for young people to see characters they can identify with and to be represented in pop culture and literature. As an Asian myself, I can’t tell you enough how much it means for me to see Sirscha in all her Asian beauty (look ma, we have the same nose!) gracing that book cover.
Three-word review: compulsive, political, relevant. Forest of Souls is the must-read YA fantasy of our time.
About the Author
Lori is an avid writer, reader, artist, and lover of unicorns. She should probably spend less time on the internet (but she won’t). She considers herself a unicorn aficianado, is fond of talking in capslock, and loves to write about magic, manipulation, and family.
Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee
Hardcover, 400 pages
Expected publication: June 23rd 2020 by Page Street Kids
Edition Language: English
Series: Shamanborn #1
Genres: Fantasy | Young Adult
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I am grateful to Raf of The Royal Polar Bear blog for always trusting me to join his epic blog tours. Big thanks also to Page Street Books and Lori M. Lee for the opportunity.
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