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.
Publication date: June 23rd 2020
Forest of Souls is an exciting and unique fantasy novel set in a mythical world which is divided and complex. The story follows Sirscha as she trains at the rigorous academy, her biggest goal in life to become the Queen’s shadow, the chief spy and protector against any threats. However, after an unexpected altercation and a botched mission, Sirscha discovers she has abilities beyond her imagining which alters her course irrevocably…
The most enjoyable element of this novel for me was undoubtedly the focus on female friendship. I loved that the bond between Sirscha and Saengo was the central point and was such a huge motivator for the main character as well as furthering the plot. The whole reason why Sirscha discovers her abilities is tied to her intense grief at the prospect of losing Saengo and throughout the novel it’s made clear how far she is willing to go for her best friend. In a society where romantic love is highlighted so much and often deemed to be the most important, I really appreciate books which also emphasise the value of loving platonic relationships as well.
I also liked the whole concept of the Dead Wood and Ronin as the Spider king. Given that I’m not the biggest fan of spiders anyway, this just added to the creepiness factor for me! I thought the parts where Sirscha and her companions have to navigate the malevolent forest were so fraught with tension and I definitely felt the fear and unease the characters were experiencing in such a visceral way.
There were some secondary characters introduced, but the only one that really stood out to me was Theyen, a member of the aristocracy from another land who unexpectedly becomes an ally. I thought he was intriguing and I have some theories on how he’ll fit into the plot in the next two books for sure.
My biggest issue with this novel was the lack of connection I felt to the characters and the story itself. While there were elements I appreciated and could see were well done, it was like I was reading from a distance, and not really immersed or emotionally affected by what was happening, other than the dread in the forest sections. I feel like there needed to be way more work done on the characters themselves to give them more of a draw or something deeper than their surface level motivations. The saving grace like I mentioned before, was the friendship element and the lore to some extent. I believe this is going to be a trilogy and it definitely felt like this was just the periphery introduction and set up rather than a first instalment which hooks you in to the series and makes you want to read further.
Overall, this was a book which I was very excited for and while I don’t think it completely lived up to my expectations, I would consider reading the sequel to see where things go from here as I think and hope (!) that the characters and world building is more firmly established.
Until next time,