Author: Elayne Audrey Becker
TO BE BORN OF THE FOREST IS A GIFT AND A CURSE.
Rora is a shifter, as magical as all those born in the wilderness—and as feared. She uses her abilities to spy for the king, traveling under different guises and listening for signs of trouble.
When a magical illness surfaces across the kingdom, Rora uncovers a devastating truth: Finley, the young prince and her best friend, has caught it, too. His only hope is stardust, the rarest of magical elements, found deep in the wilderness where Rora grew up—and to which she swore never to return.
But for her only friend, Rora will face her past and brave the dark, magical wood, journeying with her brother and the obstinate, older prince who insists on coming. Together, they must survive sentient forests and creatures unknown, battling an ever-changing landscape while escaping human pursuers who want them dead. With illness gripping the kingdom and war on the horizon, Finley’s is not the only life that hangs in the balance.
Forestborn is the first novel in a new duology of the same name. I am cautious when starting a duology as they have the potential to be too slow in the first novel leaving all the action for the sequel or they could solve almost every problem in the first novel and new ones are presented in the sequel leaving them disconnected. Luckily, this novel provides a great balance and I have faith that the sequel will follow through and provide an excellent conclusion. This novel has a great build-up of different threats that the characters face and then does well to tie everything together leaving the second novel to find a solution.
The story is set on the continent of Alemara (a map most likely will be included in the final version, but was not present in my ARC). There is Eradain, a kingdom in the north ruled by 25-year-old King Jol Holworth, Sovereign of Eradain after he recently inherited the throne. On the south end is Telyn, which is ruled by King Gerar Danofer, Sovereign of Telyan. The republic of Glenweil lies in the center. The story begins with the main set of characters in Roanin, a city within Telyn, at Castle Roanin, but the other two regions do play a role in the story. I love that the author kept it simple, in a way, with three regions as it was easy to keep track of the main locations and keep the focus the characters and story. Readers, like me, can become too bogged down in details if there are too many locations, so I liked the simplicity in the approach.
Rora, the main character, is a Shifter, which has three animal forms that they can shift into depending on need and alter their appearance as humans. She acts as a spy for King Gerar since her arrival at the palace four years before when she was thirteen. Her brother, who is a year old, arrived at the palace at the same time. As he is also a shifter, he was not allowed to remain at the palace. Magic is feared, so the king was unable to have both in his service while remaining in the people’s favor. During Rora’s return to the castle after a mission at the very beginning of the novel, the tone of the prejudice against shifters was apparent. The way the guards and advisors talk to Rora was well done as there is a lot of tension without it being explicitly spelled out. The dyamics between Rora and the royal family is interesting as it is not always apparently what they fully think about Rora, aside from 16-year-old Finley, the youngest prince, who is Rora’s best friend. Finley’s older brother, 20-year-old Weslyn, and his older sister, the Crown princess, 25-year-old Violet both are kind to Rora, but their full feelings are not outright stated.
The main conflict in the story is the magical disease, the Fallow Throes, which is slowly killing off humans. When Finley becomes infected, Rora, Helos, and Weslyn team up to sneak into the Vale wilderness within Glenweil to try and find the cure. In addition to the magical quest, there is the growing threat from Eradain as political tensions continue to grow. Most of the story focuses on the quest by the three characters, but the political threats are always present in the background. For me, this was well done as there was great balance between the two big picture obstacles. It is tied together well with the prejudices against those with magic and it will be interesting how everything comes together in the next novel. Many of these plots are addressed in this novel, but there is still more to be explored in the next.
Overall, the characters in this story are amazing. There is great representations of love as there is a mix of romantic (m/m and m/f), platonic love (friends, found family), and familial love. There are two main romances where one is more slow burn and the other is more mysterious in detail. I love both romances and cannot wait to see them develop. All of the characters, villains and heroes alike, were all likeable as they were all complex and their motivations were revealed naturally. The concept of morality is explored as there is some tension about what constitutes selfish decisions. While I enjoyed the pacing of the story, I am still a little in the dark about the general timeline of the story. While the reader can count the number of nights, I am not positive if every day is represented. For me, it would have been nice to add in some indication of the time that has passed. The prophecy mentioned throughout the novel of “two shifters’ deaths” is interesting. I cannot wait to see how everything comes together and I am highly anticipating for the next novel to become available!