This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend. Read the full disclosure here.
Book: “The Drowned Woods” by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Publishing Info: Little Brown Books for Young Readers, August 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: Once upon a time, the kingdoms of Wales were rife with magic and conflict, and eighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is well-acquainted with both. She is the last living water diviner and has spent years running from the prince who bound her into his service. Under the prince’s orders, she located the wells of his enemies, and he poisoned them without her knowledge, causing hundreds of deaths. After discovering what he had done, Mer went to great lengths to disappear from his reach. Then Mer’s old handler returns with a proposition: use her powers to bring down the very prince that abused them both.
The best way to do that is to destroy the magical well that keeps the prince’s lands safe. With a motley crew of allies, including a fae-cursed young man, the lady of thieves, and a corgi that may or may not be a spy, Mer may finally be able to steal precious freedom and peace for herself. After all, a person with a knife is one thing…but a person with a cause can topple kingdoms.
Review: I absolutely loved “The Bone Houses” when it came out a few years ago. Ever since, I’ve been practically stalking the author on Goodreads to see when she’d be releasing another book. So, it’s no surprise that when this one came up on Edelweiss+, I immediately requested it and devoured it. And now, I guess I’m back to the stalking??
With great power comes great responsibility, and all of that. So when Mer discovers the prince has been using her water powers to locate enemy wells and poison them to kill civilians, she makes herself scarce. Now, having lived in the shadows, disappearing from place to place, her long-ago handler has tracked her down with a proposition: a dangerous mission, but one that could cripple the prince and his power for good. Alongside a young man with incredible fighting abilities and some connection to the Fae and a strange little corgi who could be a spy, Mer sets off to topple a kingdom.
There was a lot to love about this book! I will say, it took me a bit longer to find myself fully drawn into this story, but I think part of the reason for that is this felt like a more serious story. Not to say it wasn’t an enjoyable read, but all of the characters we meet immediately held the weight of long personal histories that still burdened them. This left them all with incredible story arcs, but the story required a bit more time invested before you fully begin to feel pulled into the story. But once there, everything was amazing. The writing is also so solid that any slow start is immediately counterbalanced by the sheer joy of reading the prose.
The author described this book as “Welsh Atlantis” at one point, and what a cool idea that was! Apparently, there is some myth of a land that used to exist off Wales but was subsumed under the waves by the mistake of a young woman and her water magic. This story is that myth but told from the perspective of the water mage. Mer was an incredible character, and the more we learn about her tragic history of betrayal after betrayal, the more we understand the slow work it is for her to trust again. I also really liked her magic. When you hear “water magic” there are some pretty obvious examples that come to mind. But while those are included, the author was also so creative with how this ability could be used in other devastating ways.
Fane was also an excellent character. Again, his fighting magic could have been an overly familiar fantasy trope, but instead the author created unique boundaries and limits on how it could be used and the price it cost Fane. His story also slowly revealed the truths of his history and his own motivations and goals moving forward. There were a couple of surprises that I definitely didn’t see coming with his role in the story.
There were two romances in this book, one was a romance of the past between Mer and an heir to the thieves guild. And then the other was the slow-burn between the Mer of the current day with Fane. Both were lovely in their own right, and I enjoyed how Mer’s experiences with her first love shaped how her feelings developed for Fane.
This book will definitely satisfy those who enjoyed “The Bone Houses,” even if it was a bit slower of a read. The epilogue, especially, had some nice connections laid out between this story and that. Though it is no way necessary to have read that book before tis one. Fantasy fans, especially those looking for a solid stand-alone story based on myth, should definitely check this one out!
Rating 9: Definitely a favorite for the year, this story pulls together everything I like: a mythical fantasy story, a slow-burn romance, and excellent character-driven arcs.
“The Drowned Woods” is mostly on on rather boring Goodreads lists like this one YA Releases August 2022.