*I received an ecopy of this book via Edelweiss. This has not influenced my review.*
This book has a different sort of premise, and I was especially drawn in by what I’d seen reviewers mention about a non-binary character and a polyamorous relationship. This is a hard review for me to write though because it certainly wasn’t a bad book, but it didn’t end up being quite what I expected.
As I said, this was a somewhat unique premise, and I liked that. The book was a bit slow for a while, but it picked up around the halfway mark when the characters went into the forest. From then on, things were mysterious and intriguing and a little bit twisty.
I also loved the forest! The forest and its creatures, devil/god, and magic were very cool. I can’t say too much because of spoilers, but I especially loved how certain things were described. They sounded strangely beautiful. Very nature-y and animal-y. And the compelling aspect of the magic was neat to read about.
My biggest issue though was how distanced I felt from the characters, like I was watching rather than experiencing through them. They were likeable, and I could root for them, but I didn’t really know them. I was told what they were like more than shown—Rhun was good, Arthur was pointy, and Mairwen was bold. I was also kind of told what they felt for each other, but it was vague and confusing, so I didn’t truly feel or understand the connections between them. (Although Rhun and Arthur seemed to have the most passionate feelings for each other, with a nice side of angst. I like angst.)
It was also hard to keep track of whose POV I was in. All were third-person and sounded the same, and context rarely helped since the characters were often together. There also seemed to be some head-hopping or omniscience.
Another related issue I had, which might not bother other people at all, was the town in general. I thought the story would be about an isolated place where they gave sacrifices because they had to, because it was all they knew, because there was no rest of the world for them to turn to if anything bad happened. Instead, anyone could leave at any time, get supplies, etc. And when something was wrong with their bargain, they all just seemed mildly concerned. The story would’ve worked better for me had they been isolated and/or had the townspeople’s fear and desperation (if that’s even how they felt) been explored more.
Last but not least… The non-binary character was one thing that drew me in, but I’m not sure he was actually non-binary. Arthur was raised as a girl for the first seven years of his life. But after that he never referred to himself as anything other than a boy, even though he did have a lot of inner struggles and mentioned that he sometimes missed being a girl. That being said, I found this to be the most thought-provoking aspect of the book. It made me think about just how much of gender is a social construct and how much it affects us because Arthur was happy as a girl until he was told otherwise. If everyone were raised as a different gender, how many people would feel perfectly content that way? Obviously not everyone, but maybe some would. Or what if we didn’t raise kids with gender at all? Or what if we had no roles or expectations associated with gender? I like that this book got me pondering.
Overall, this book wasn’t quite what I was expecting, and the distance from the characters made it hard for me to connect with them, but I still enjoyed the mysterious plot and the otherworldly forest magic, and I think plenty of readers will like this one, especially those who like witchy stuff.
Anyone who like mysterious stories, nature-y witches, and forest magic.