It is both a blessing and a curse, to be forestborn. But I think many of us could say that in general. For Rora, her shapeshifting abilities are a part of who she is. They make her useful to the king and, at least in her mind, prove that she has value. But an ominous prophecy about shifters follows her, and the people around her treat her with mistrust. Now, she must pair up with one of the people whose scorn bothers her the most in order to save the life of someone she loves.
Forestborn, the debut novel by Elayne Audrey Becker, follows Rora and her brother, Helos – the only survivors of a massacre that wiped out their entire village – as they travel through the mysterious, magical forest (to which they swore never to return) in search of a long-shot cure for a fatal illness that has suddenly stricken their dear friend, Finley, who happens to be the youngest son of the king Rora serves. Accompanying them on their quest is Finley’s brother, Weslyn, who has treated the siblings with derision ever since his mother’s death years ago – which was the day they met.
Rora, Helos, and Weslyn as a trio are phenomenal. Rora and Helos’s sibling dynamic is complex and would be difficult to explain without giving away too much of the book. Suffice it to say that they love each other dearly and are determined to protect each other, but they both have a lot of inner demons to battle through that manifest in unhealthy ways. Toss in Weslyn, who has mostly ignored them for years and who must deal with his own problems and rid himself of his preconceptions based on his life of privilege, and you have a really great, charismatic lead trio.
(And yes, there is queer representation, but I don’t want to go too much into it in the review because it was a delight for me to piece it together as I read. It is something that I am hoping gets expanded on in the next book.)
I really love what Becker has done here with Rora in particular. The book navigates a complex discussion on morality, both to oneself and to others. There is a lot of talk about selfishness and selflessness, and how both traits are not always as black and white as they may seem on paper. In fact, “not what it seems” could be the theme of the book when you look at the very obvious definition (Rora and Helos are both shapeshifters) and the more metaphorical (people’s assumptions about others).
This book was a treat to read. Becker has created a vast, varied world, not only with the different magical creatures we meet as the trio journey through the wilderness, but also among the humans themselves. There is a stark difference in the feel of the kingdoms – among the people, among the politics, among the forms of government. And I particularly loved this new take on shapeshifting, which reminded me a bit of the Daemons in His Dark Materials in that a shifter is able to take up to three animal forms but they cannot choose them – it’s something that just happens.
The human societies and politics will play a bigger role in the next book, but in regards to Forestborn, the focus is the forest itself. Aside from the various magical creatures the trio meet along the way, the land is almost its own character – in the sense of Tolkien, The Princess Bride, or The Neverending Story. There is a strange mist that deposits you where you need to go – even if you were nowhere near there when you started. There is a meadow that makes you hallucinate. There is a cave system that changes the same way the staircases do at Hogwarts.
As the first book in a duology, Forestborn covers a very specific quest. Rora, Helos, and Weslyn are looking for a cure for a disease that is magical in nature. Ergo, the cure itself must be magical. But the only solution anyone can offer is to cross the magical forest, search for the Giants (who may not even exist anymore), and ask them for stardust (which may never have been real). The plot is nicely paced and doesn’t ever really drag, even when the three are mostly just walking – it’s these moments where the best character development happens.
In short, Forestborn is a fantastic, well-written fantasy with likable and relatable main characters set in a lush world where everything is complicated and nothing is as it seems. There are a lot of familiar fantasy tropes – a quest, a prophecy – and some of my favorite fanfic ones (enemies-to-lovers fans, raise your hands and then use them to read this book) that made this a very enjoyable read. I am extremely excited for the sequel (which is expected to be released next year).
Forestborn by Elayne Audrey Becker is published by Tor Teen and will be available August 31, 2021, wherever books are sold.
*I received an advance copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*
Stay tuned for our interview with author Elayne Audrey Becker!
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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