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Out of the woods: books set in forests

I’m not entirely sure why forests are such a powerful setting and symbol in fantasy. Maybe it’s something to do with fairy tales, maybe something to do with how much of the land we now inhabit was once covered with vast acres of trees. Regardless, I love books that have forests as a main setting and I wanted to highlight some of them. They might engage with the mythology of forests in different ways, but they’re all playing with that sense of magic and danger.

out of the woods

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black: The forest that Hazel and Ben enter plays a major part in this haunting book.

The Jinx trilogy by Sage Blackwood: The Jinx trilogy is almost entirely set in the Urwald, a magical forest that’s full of danger and secrets.

Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow: In Otter’s world any shadow can hold one of the deadly White Hands, and so the forest that surrounds her home is both beautiful and terrifying.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll: Carroll draws on fairy tale influences to weave her extremely creepy story of a girl who goes out into the dark woods.

The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye: The forest in this book is more benign than many of the others I’m featuring here, but it’s extremely delightful.

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire LeGrand: Finley’s semi-imagined forest, the Everwood, drives a lot of this book, as well as being the place Finley feels the safest.

In the Forests of Serre (and several others) by Patricia McKillip: McKillip loves to write about forests, and she often does so with a sense of the edges where they turn magical.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne: Like the woods in The Ordinary Princess, The Hundred-Acre Woods are more benign than most of these stories. It’s still a magical and enchanting land.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: A magical forest where the trees speak Latin and time is out of joint should definitely be on this list.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede: I mean, they’re called The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Also, a wonderful mix of funny and serious.


Am I missing a favorite book set in a forest or woods? Let me know! I’d love to read more of them.





bookish posts reviews

Jinx’s Fire by Sage Blackwood

jinx's fireJinx’s Fire is the third and final volume in Sage Blackwood’s lovely Jinx trilogy, a middle grade fantasy featuring a diverse main character and some of my favorite settings ever. [Full disclosure: I’m Twitter friends with Sage Blackwood and we often chat about pets, food, and the vagaries of life. However, I liked her books first!] SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST TWO BOOKS FOLLOW. IN THE NEXT SENTENCE. BE WARNED.

At the end of the second book, we left things in a very precarious state, with Simon missing and Jinx struggling to counter the forces moving against the Urwald. In this book, Jinx really starts to grow up in certain ways, which I really loved. He’s a lot more sure of himself, and more inclined to trust his own instincts. This is definitely both a strength and a weakness. At several points, I wanted to cheer and also worry about him. But I completely believed that he’s a teenage boy–he has exactly the right mix of vulnerability and total believe in his own invincibility.

I am also extremely happy because Sophie’s back! Hurray! And Elfwyn is also coming into herself! Hurray! Reven is still being awful! Boo!

One of the things I’ve especially liked about this trilogy have been the themes that are woven into the story. Without being messagey, the books definitely take on some big things. Here, there are lots of questions about nationhood and patriotism, as Jinx and co. try to persuade the Urwalders that they must become a country in order to survive. I thought this was dealt with nicely, with other viewpoints given attention.

And as in the second book, the idea of balance is discussed quite a bit. How does Jinx balance Ice and Fire? How does he fight the Bonemaster without becoming him? How does he confront his own past and recognize that other people have their own versions of what happened? I really appreciated that throughout the story, we’re very much in Jinx’s point-of-view and yet we also get glimpses of how other people think, a sense that they aren’t only as he sees them.

My only criticism is that I felt the middle section dragged just a titch. However, I will also note that I was reading an ebook and my patience level when reading an ebook is never as high as when reading a paper book, so I’m not even entirely sure this is fair.

Regardless, I’m very pleased with where this book ended up. It’s a satisfying conclusion to the story, and I plan to revisit the Urwald often.

Book source: eARC from Edelweiss
Book information: 2015, Katherine Tegen books; middle grade fantasy

My reviews of the previous books: Jinx, and Jinx’s Magic

bookish posts reviews

Jinx’s Magic by Sage Blackwood

jinx's magicJinx was one of my favorite books last year, and I was really glad to find out that a sequel was being published. I read an eARC via Edelweiss and then forgot to pre-order the final version–a mistake which has now been fixed!

Sometimes when you really, really love the first book in a series, the second book is very nervous-making. What if it’s just not as good? Then, not only do you not love the sequel, the first book is usually tinged with this sad feeling of lost potential (see: Mira Grant’s Feed). Happily, Blackwood does not fall into this trap. Jinx’s Magic is just as lovely as Jinx. (I should mention, in the interests of disclosure, that I chat with Sage Blackwood on Twitter sometimes and she seems like a lovely person. But her books are excellent regardless.) So, here are the reasons I loved this book.

1. Jinx. He’s far from perfect–sometimes arrogant, sometimes prickly, sometimes unable to see other people clearly. But he’s also curious and kind, and he tries really hard to do the right thing. He’s growing up more in this book, which is both painful and delightful to read.

2. Everyone else. I wanted more Simon, because I am fretting about Things Which Occur, and because I miss the bracing effect he has on the other characters. And of course there’s Reven, who is somewhat distressing at this point. But I loved Elfwyn, and I really liked the way she is learning to use her curse.

3. The settings. The Urwald continues to be wonderful, but Keyland and Samara have their own texture. I liked that Jinx thinks quite a bit about the differences between the countries and how people who live there tend to think. He’s running up against the limits of his own experience and learning that there are other ways of living.

4. Malthus. I really enjoyed how he is both quite profound and at the same time a bit scary, and also a bit funny. Like here: “‘Death isn’t evil,’ said Malthus. ‘Life doesn’t end in evil. Many people end their lives as delicious meals for werewolves.'”

5. Jinx’s magic. It’s right there in the title, but I really liked the way the story plays with Jinx’s relationship to his magic. It’s part of him, but it’s not all of him, and he isn’t always able to do what he wants with it.

6. The themes from the first book continue to play out. How do you know who to trust, and who to listen to? Especially when you’re not sure how true your own perceptions are. This is important for Jinx’s ability to see people’s feelings–is he seeing them, or is he seeing their feelings filtered through his own?

7. The theme and images of balance. Urwald magic vs. KnIP. Jinx vs. the Bonemaster. Book smarts (Jinx) vs. life smarts (Wendell). It’s an important thread in this book, and it turns up in interesting places.

The only complaint I have is that the ending seemed a bit abrupt. It’s not a cliffhanger, exactly, but things aren’t completely wrapped up either. Next book, please!

Book source: eARC from Edelweiss; purchased
Book information: HarperCollins, 2014; middle grade fantasy