Cerys is safe in the kingdom of Aloriya.
Here there are no droughts, disease, or famine, and peace is everlasting. It has been this way for hundreds of years, since the first king made a bargain with the Lady who ruled the forest that borders the kingdom. But as Aloriya prospered, the woods grew dark, cursed, and forbidden. Cerys knows this all too well: when she was young, she barely escaped as the woods killed her friends and her mother. Now Cerys carries a small bit of the curse—the magic—in her blood, a reminder of the day she lost everything. The most danger she faces now, as a gardener’s daughter, is the annoying fox who stalks the royal gardens and won’t leave her alone.
As a new queen is crowned, however, things long hidden in the woods descend on the kingdom itself. Cerys is forced on the run, her only companions the small fox from the garden, a strange and powerful bear, and the magic in her veins. It’s up to her to find the legendary Lady of the Wilds and beg for a way to save her home. But the road is darker and more dangerous than she knows, and as secrets from the past are uncovered amid the teeth and roots of the forest, it’s going to take everything she has just to survive.
I don’t know what I expected with this book but weird zombie forest was definitely not it. And yet, somehow it worked for me!
This was such a dark sort of fairy tale. You have a prince and princess and a commoner’s daughter as well as an ‘enchanted’ forest and a kingdom where everything is going exceptionally well. UNTIL. Until it isn’t of course. Everything goes so spectacularly wrong so very quickly. It’s like one moment you’re all Morning Mood vibing and next thing you know In The Hall of the Mountain King suddenly breaks out (why yes I did just reference the Peer Gynt suite because it’s SUCH A MOOD HERE–it would honestly be a great soundtrack to this book). What I liked about this is the story takes these familiar tropes and twists them just so. Because, really was everything going well in this kingdom? Sure but also don’t go into that forest because you might turn into a monster. Or get eaten by one. Or get eaten by one and then turn into a monster. Look–the forest is bad news! And it’s something the people in the kingdom have to live with but it seems a small price to pay for the relative prosperity of the kingdom due to some enchanted crown that was totally given freely to the king by some magic forest woman some centuries ago. But what about those that have lost loved ones to this forest? Is the sacrifice worth it? Well, everyone’s about to find out. This is a story that not only plays with tropes but asks, ‘hey, how about that propaganda, eh?’. Anyway, bottom line is that this story was a lot darker than I expected but I loved it for that.
As for the characters, I had a good time with them. There are some that I liked better than others and some that I didn’t quite know what to think of. I like characters that have some ambiguity to them. I will say one character revelation that seemed like it was supposed to be some giant surprise I had figured out from the get-go. I don’t know if we, the reader, were supposed to be ‘in on it’ or not…that’s a little unclear so it makes the reveal just feel…not very shocking. But anyway. I really had a good time with the little gang that forms during the jaunt through the forest. Nothing like being chased by zombie-like creatures to make a group of strangers want to bond. Cerys was an interesting character to follow even if she seems a bit too good at times, she’s a survivor. She’s had trauma in her young life and she’s still dealing with that, and we explore that over the course of the story as she’s traumatized all over again. She’s someone who’s lost everything but will continue to fight and have hope. I really liked Fox too. He’s a fun. He’s kind of selfish sometimes. He admits he’s cowardly. He also, obviously, has had his own share of trauma. I loved the dynamic between the two of them for the most part, but the romance toward the end somehow felt rushed even though the story had been building up to that from the start. Hm.
One of the other things I did enjoy about this was it was very much an Ashley Poston book so it contained her trademark brand of humor. There was also a diverse set of characters, which I appreciated especially since none of that was made to be a big deal, it was just the way the world existed. The plot of the story is very much a journey while trying to survive. It felt a bit like a horror in some ways because of that. I feel like that was very interesting especially given that it felt so very fairy-tale-esque.
Overall, I had a fun time with this book. I think it’s worth checking out if you’re looking for some dark fantasy with a dash of romance and humor. 4/5 stars.