Title: Forest of Souls (Shamanborn #1)
Author: Lori M. Lee
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication Date: June 23rd 2020 from Page Street Kids
Format: Kindle ARC
Goodreads Synopsis: 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 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.
First of all, Charlie Bowater just continues to SLAY with these amazing YA covers that she does! When I saw this last year and read the synopsis, I knew that I had to try this. But when I got the ARC a while ago, I did wait so that I could read it sooner to the release date. Then, it worked for one of the Medieval-a-Thon! But sadly, this book was disappointing and didn’t live up to the great synopsis that it has. This also bears too many similarities to another popular YA book that it was hard not to compare the two at times. Here’s the breakdown of my thoughts:
- World building/Magic system: At the very beginning of the book, the author gives all the different types of Shamans and their different crafts. For example, a firewender can melt someone’s weapons with one craft, but another craft can cause a firewender to burn someone’s blood in their body! There’s at least three crafts for each element. I did like seeing all the different crafts for each Shamanborn. I liked that while two people be of the same elemental power, their craft can be different and that was cool. Seeing all of this at the beginning gives you a good picture for the whole book, since these crafts are mentioned enough that this information is helpful.
- Creepy forest setting: Sirscha has a mission to go to Spinner’s End, where Ronin the Spider King lives and she has to deal with the Dead Wood. This place has souls within the trees and man it was well done. I liked how the author really describes the atmosphere and the danger that lurks within the trees. It’s not very often that you see creepy forests in YA books but this setting was great with the spider webs, whispers and how people are consumed by the trees.
- Cover: Again, the cover is fantastic! I love how the colors in the cover transition from yellow to orange. The simple pops of yellow and orange against all the dark colors make it stand out really well. Charlie Bowater cannot do wrong with covers!
- Too similarities to “Truthwitch”: Now this could be a good or not a great thing depending on how you liked the popular YA book “Truthwitch.” I listened to that book a few years back before I started my blog and I didn’t like it. But while reading this, both of these books are too similar with: protagonist having a super rare power, female friendship and a big fantasy world with lots of different magical abilities. If you did like “Truthwitch,” then you might like it. But for me, that’s not the case. While the world building and the magic in this book is much better done than the other book, this book also suffered from a very flat female friendship and characters. While a lot of stories can seem similar to other books, and that it’s not a bad thing, but it was really hard to not see “Truthwitch” while reading this one. Since it wasn’t a book that I didn’t like, it didn’t help at all…
- Messy plot: While the beginning of this book was on a good path to being a fluid story, it got really messy by the halfway point. We would be at point A, going through the necessary motions, but then change to point B and then that became important. Sirscha would be “doing” something but then she’d be traveling somewhere to focus on something different, when the previous thing she was doing was really important. The mission the Dead Wood was often ignored for other inserted scenes for lots of dialogue and action instead. Then, we get a really rushed ending where there’s very convenient traveling by a shadow gate (where was that earlier?) and everything is so easy for Sirscha to accomplish, followed by a cheap cliffhanger.
- Sirscha as a protagonist: I clearly wasn’t a fan of this character by the end of the book. Sirscha comes from a rough childhood, having grown up in a cruel orphanage, being degraded for her low station, as well as being trained by the Queen’s Shadow Kendara. Kendara is a very harsh person who puts Sirscha through a lot of cruel “training situations” and Sirscha has been fighting for being Kendara’s official apprentice. Due to her rough childhood, you would think that Sirscha had to grow up fast in order to survive. But I didn’t really see that in the book. Sirscha is a very picky person and also acts very immature. The biggest instance of this is there is a person who knows about Sirscha’s power. He is a very abrasive person and she doesn’t like him, but she refuses to be trained by someone is “rude” to her, when Kendara was also cold to her and made her go through deadly training and never treated her very kindly. For someone who hardly knows about shaman powers in general, I don’t think you can afford to be picky when your power is so rare! You’re given a task, a large task, and you have no idea how to approach it and time is running out. But she basically forces herself into dangerous situations to awaken her powers so she doesn’t have to be taught by someone who is rude to her. I can’t stand when someone doesn’t take training seriously, when they knew nothing in the first place. She acts so tough that she deserves to be Kendara’s shadow and also that she can do stuff on her own, but her frustration was…well frustrating. Then, she makes a choice at the end with NO prior knowledge to the truth and the consequences start a domino effect for the rest of the series. If she tried harder to find out as much info as she could, she wouldn’t have made this terrible decision. That’s all I will say on that point without any spoilers.
- Flat friendship: While I could see that Sirscha and Saengo are friends, but that’s just it. This friendship is flat throughout the entire book. We get a simple explanation of how they became friends and sure they stick up for each other and support each other a few times, but that’s pretty much it. Saengo takes a major back seat so that our protagonist gets more time in the book. Saengo even acts like a damsel in distress a lot, with lots of resting, wearing nice clothes and taking the sidelines. She hardly fights by her friend throughout the entire book. We never dig into either of their personalities to see how they’re different from each other. If you have a friendship that’s going to be central throughout the series, it’s good to establish these people’s individual personalities to make the reader care about both of them, but that doesn’t happen. Both of these girls have a surface level personality but that’s it.
Overall: This was another hollow YA fantasy with a boring friendship, poorly constructed plot, some real glaring conveniences that don’t help the story and a protagonist that acts like she’s 12 when her circumstances would’ve made her harder and less trusting and also genuinely work harder. I am tired of authors making things so easy for their characters to achieve, like the few instances when Sirscha just gets access to her powers without any training at all! If you actually make things hard or difficult for your characters, they grow way more than when things get handed to them. Sadly, I didn’t love this and won’t continue with the series.
Have you read this? If so, what did you think of it? Do you have similar YA fantasy recs that I might like more? Let me know in the comments!