Seven Endless Forests is an intriguing take on the Arthurian legend, but a polarizing writing style and lack of world and character building left it feeling a bit hollow for me.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
This review original appeared on TheNerdDaily.com. Thank you to Nerd Daily and the publisher for providing me a copy of this ARC for review. All opinions expressed are 100% my own.
Seven Endless Forests
Author: April Genevieve Tucholke
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: April 28, 2020
Synopsis: On the heels of a devastating plague, Torvi’s sister, Morgunn, is stolen from the family farm by Uther, a flame-loving Fremish wolf-priest who leads a pack of ragged, starving girls. Torvi leaves the only home she’s ever known, and joins a shaven-skulled druid and a band of roaming Elsh artists known as the Butcher Bards. They set out on a quest to rescue Torvi’s sister, and find a mythical sword.
On their travels, Torvi and her companions will encounter magical night wilds and mystical Drakes who trade in young men. They will sing rowdy Elshland ballads in a tree-town tavern, and find a mysterious black tower in an Endless Forest. They will fight alongside famous Vorseland archers and barter with Fremish wizards. They will feast with rogue Jade Fell children in a Skal Mountain cave, and seek the help of a Pig Witch. They will face wild, dangerous magic that leads to love, joy, tragedy, and death.
Torvi set out to rescue a sister, but she may find it’s merely the first step toward a life that is grander and more glorious than anything she could have imagined.
Seven Endless Forests by April Genieve Tucholke is a story of quests and sisters, an Aruthrian legend retelling with ancient Norse influences, and an intriguing look at the journeys we take to find ourselves. While these are all great story elements, the author’s writing style is what will make or break this novel for readers.
On a secluded farm, Torvi and her younger sister, Morgunn, have just lost their mother to snow sickness. Torvi, who also lost her lover, Viggo, must figure out how to keep her and her sister alive while a fearsome band of ruthless, starved girls, led by a Fremish wolf-priest, draw ever closer to the farm. One night, a mysterious druid appears and befriends the sisters. This chance meeting sets Torvi and Morgunn on a long and winding path filled with adventure, discovery, and heartbreak.
At its core, Seven Endless Forests is about finding your quest and setting out to live your life. At a certain point in our youths, we must strike forth into the world and forge ourselves. Torvi has spent her youth being looked down upon by her mother for being too weak. Her mother believed Morgunn was the child destined for greatness and never stopped telling both of them that. But it was Torvi who buried their mother’s body, Torvi who kept Morgunn alive and sober, and Torvi who sacrifices everything when Morgunn is kidnapped by the wolf-priest, Uther. The journey she takes to find the inner strength she has always had is not an easy one, but it does make for an intriguing tale.
So here’s where we get to the hard part: the writing style. Tucholke has a very stark, straightforward writing style that may or may not work for some readers. The story is almost told like a tale you’d hear from a traveller in a tavern. There is no flowery language or deep descriptions of scenery, thoughts, or feelings. Much of it boils down to showing vs telling and there is a very weird balance of that throughout the story. The bones of world building are there, but readers will have to rely heavily on their imaginations to flesh out that skeleton.
The writing style may also make it hard for some to relate or feel for the characters. Again, it’s just going to depend on the reader because I truly feel that there is depth to this story, but it just never clicked for me. Outside of the two sisters, there just isn’t much character building. There are a lot of emotional moments throughout, but how you click with the writing style will determine if they hit home for you or not.
Torvi is a great balance of strong and vulnerable. Watching her grow to trust in herself and her inner strength is a wonderful thing and something a lot of younger readers will find themselves invested in. Morgunn on the other hand, is a bit more difficult. Though she is only fourteen, she is depicted as an alcoholic in the story and that is going to make some uncomfortable. It also made me wonder why their mother seemed to think Morgunn was the strong one. Yes, Morgunn was cool with slaughtering animals for the farm, but that seems to be her only strength. So why was she the one destined for greatness? We never really get that answer and it just leaves their mother seeming like a jerk and the fight for who is the greater sister as contrived.
If Seven Endless Forests had been perhaps 100 pages longer, giving us more character development and world building, I believe this one would have quickly become a favorite book for me. That being said, there is still a strong story and message here, even if not every reader will feel it in their bones.