Serena’s Review: “Forestborn”

Book: “Forestborn” by Elayne Audrey Becker

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, August 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Rora is a shifter, as magical as all those born in the wilderness–and as feared. She uses her abilities to spy for the king, traveling under different guises and listening for signs of trouble.

When a magical illness surfaces across the kingdom, Rora uncovers a devastating truth: Finley, the young prince and her best friend, has caught it, too. His only hope is stardust, the rarest of magical elements, found deep in the wilderness where Rora grew up–and to which she swore never to return.

But for her only friend, Rora will face her past and brave the dark, magical wood, journeying with her brother and the obstinate, older prince who insists on coming. Together, they must survive sentient forests and creatures unknown, battling an ever-changing landscape while escaping human pursuers who want them dead. With illness gripping the kingdom and war on the horizon, Finley’s is not the only life that hangs in the balance.

Review: Everything about this book promo worked to lure me in. The cover is gorgeous and speaks to the fairytale-like fantasy novels that I’m always on the search for. And the book description just cemented it for me. A young woman with magical abilities setting off on a dangerous quest? Yep! Siblings relationships? Yep! Friendship and potential romance? Yep! But even with all of these high expectations, I wasn’t prepared for just how much I was going to enjoy this book.

Though the last several years have seen Rora and her brother taken under the wing of the royal family, there life before this was very different. As shifters, they have been hated and feared almost their entire life and grew up struggling to remain alive in a land riddled with dangerous magic. Nothing could compel Rora to return to that frightful land. Or so she thinks. When her best friend, the young prince Finley comes down with a deadly illness that is sweeping the country, Rora knows there is only one hope of saving him. Now, she, her brother, and Finley’s older, serious brother must set out on a quest to retrieve the cure. But along the way, they discover that more is going wrong in the land than just this illness. And soon, the choices before them will become more and more impossible as they fight for all they love.

I really, really enjoyed this book. From the very beginning, I could tell the writing style was exactly of the sort that I prefer: descriptive, lyrical, and confident in its readers to pick up on small lines here and there to build a picture of the world around them. It’s always so nice when authors trust their readers. It allows the story to play out slowly and in a more natural way, with reveals about past events perhaps being referenced early but not made clear until a more organic moment later in the book. It’s quite a ways into the book before we fully understand Rora’s past and how (and why) it affects her views of herself in the present. But not only do we piece together these past revelations, but there are number of twists and turns within the story as well. I could predict one or two, but there were a number that were genuinely surprising, especially how they interwove with each other and our characters.

I also really enjoyed the fantasy and magical elements of the story. While we’ve all read “humans are afraid of those with magic and thus persecution” stories, this one played this out in a rather unique way. The magic itself was also appropriately wild and dangerous. While there are wonderous aspects of it, it’s also seen to be dark and terrifying. Like the tag line on the cover, magic is neither good or bad, but instead is a force of nature unto itself. Even those with magical abilities, like Rora and her brother, both fear and respect the forces of magic around them. There were some magical encounters that were truly creepy, and the fantasy creatures were also very unique and interesting.

Overall, the story was darker than I had expected going in. There is violence, death, and loss. Especially towards the end of the book, things became much more grim than I was expecting. But all of this darkness is nicely woven into Rora’s personal arch of self-acceptance and her struggles with abandonment, loyalty, and trust. She was an excellent character all around, and I really enjoyed her narration of the story. Not only does she go through a lot of self-reflection, but we see her readjust her opinions of those few individuals who have gotten close to her through her life. She learns that not everyone is who she believed them to be, for better and for worse. This translates best into her relationship with her brother, one that goes through the natural ups and downs of two siblings transitioning from the simply relationship they had as children to the more complicated one they share as adults. But we also see these themes play out in the lovely slow-burn romance.

There were a lot of big events towards the end of this story. Much of what feels like the main arch is somewhat resolved halfway through, and then we see the story shift into an entire new gear. I don’t see a sequel currently planned on Goodreads, but I think it must be a duology given the end of this book. It’s not a straight-up cliffhanger, but there is definitely a strong set-up for a continuing story. I’ll be keeping my eyes out for sure. And in the meantime, I strongly recommend this book for fantasy fans of all sorts!

Rating 9: So, so good! Strong, confident writing mixed with excellent characters and dark fantasy elements result in a near-perfect debut book!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Forestborn” is a new title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on 2021 Debut MG/YA Novels.

Find “Forestborn” at your library using WorldCat!

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