Title: Seven Endless Forests
Author: April Genevieve Tucholke
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 352
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Notable Notables: Dark and magical setting, influenced by Arthurian legends
Recommended Readers: Anyone who wants to read a quick DnD campaign
Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher, for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
It’s been 84 years since my last review and post—not really, but kinda—so I’m happy to emerge for the positive experience I had with Seven Endless Forests by April Genevieve Tucholke. I am sorry I didn’t get this posted before the book officially released, but to be honest, the coronavirus and the general state of my country left me without much drive or desire to read much of anything. Fortunately, I caught a second wind from somewhere, and a big contribution was how quickly Seven Endless Forests was to read.
This is a companion novel to Tucholke’s previous release, The Boneless Mercies, which I haven’t read but have now immediately bought to do so because Seven Endless Forests was such an enjoyable, atmospheric experience. Not to mention, it was accessible. I quickly picked up on how The Boneless Mercies informed some of the world-building without feeling lost or like I was missing anything, and that’s a testament to how much Tucholke understands the world she’s created, allowing her to easily share it with readers.
Here we follow Torvi, who is in the thick of tragedy. A deadly plague has swept through her home, killing her shepherd lover Viggo and her mother, leaving Torvi and her younger sister Morgunn alone in the world. Before they can figure out how to move on, Morgunn is stolen away by Uther, a wolf-priest who leads her band of feral, flame-loving girls to terrorize the countryside. To get her back, Torvi joins a band of blade-wielding bards and a druid monk who are also hunting Uther’s wolf-priests. For Butcher Bards Madoc, Stefan, and Ink, it’s a quest of revenge, but for druid monk Gyda, she is after information that leads to a legendary sword no one has been able to pull from a tree.
Before anyone jumps to say Seven Endless Forests is a King Arthur retelling—and there have been many—I will say instead that the book is influenced by Arthurian legends but stands quite independently with its own focus and flair. Tucholke weaves words like her bard characters spin tales: lyrical, full of wonder, and with trained, effortless skill. This is a rare book where I was thrown proper nouns all over the place, and I didn’t get annoyed once and followed along with no trouble. The world-building is baked into the story from the start, making you instantly in the thick of the setting and inside Torvi’s viewpoint. In fact, storytelling is a prominent part of the book, and coming from bards, it’s a nice and easy way to learn organically about this rich world.
That isn’t to say that these characters themselves are particularly deep. Aside from Torvi, this isn’t a massive character study or feature with an ensemble cast to dig further into. Rather, it’s like experiencing a very quick DnD campaign where you are playing a character you know but are still learning a ton about and the other players are all guest stars in your quest. However, I didn’t mind this in the slightest because Torvi and her interactions with others were interesting enough for me, the world-building was strong, and the story’s tone and content were the right shade of dark and mysterious. Seven Endless Forests made me feel the exact way that A24’s The Green Knight trailer did: delighted by its darkness, intrigued by its magic, and appreciative of its spectacle.
Its the book’s shallowness into characterization that does ultimately detract a star from me, however. It reads very much like old school fantasy, which isn’t as in vogue anymore with readers who want multiple viewpoints or deep dives into characters. I didn’t mind it as much, but there were still some things I wish I had more of from the short book. For instance, though I loved Torvi and Gyda’s sisterhood, I could have used more exploration concerning Torvi and Madoc’s progression from friends to lovers. I believed their interest in each other and Torvi’s hesitation; I knew they would be together in the end. I just wish I could’ve seen how it happened because I’m a sap. The major ending decision between Gyda and Torvi also needed a bit more page time to understand Torvi’s abrupt change of mind, but I do ultimately like how the book ended. I love the idea that the story may continue or that it might remain a standalone, letting the reader wonder about the next grand quest.
Speaking of the next grand quest, I have The Boneless Mercies still to read and an overall anticipation at seeing what this author will do next.