It’s finally my official tour day! I know, I know. I’ve been posting almost every day, you were probably tired of me, right? I’m sorry.
But today is my day to share my review, as well as my playlist and dream cast for Forest of Souls for the Hear Our Voices Book Tour, and I am just super excited to finally tell you my thoughts on this book by Lori M. Lee! I hope that you have been paying attention to all of the posts that our content creators have been sharing through their channels and platforms.
Lori M. Lee is the author of FOREST OF SOULS, first in the Shamanborn series, as well as GATES OF THREAD AND STONE and THE INFINITE. She’s also a contributor to the anthologies A THOUSAND BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS and COLOR OUTSIDE THE LINES. She considers herself a unicorn aficionado, enjoys marathoning TV shows, and loves to write about magic, manipulation, and family.
Forest of Souls (Shamanborn #1)
by Lori M. Lee
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Release Date: June 23, 2020
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Danger lurks within the roots of Forest of Souls, an epic, unrelenting tale of destiny and sisterhood, perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Susan Dennard.
Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training to become the queen’s next royal spy, her plans are derailed when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.
And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.
Unveiled as the first soulguide in living memory, Sirscha is summoned to the domain of the Spider King. For centuries, he has used his influence over the Dead Wood—an ancient forest possessed by souls—to enforce peace between the kingdoms. Now, with the trees growing wild and untamed, only a soulguide can restrain them. As war looms, Sirscha must master her newly awakened abilities before the trees shatter the brittle peace, or worse, claim Saengo, the friend she would die for.
Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you to Hear Our Voices Book Tours, Netgalley, and Page Street Kids for this free copy. All quotes in this review are taken from the Advanced Reader Copy and may change in final publication.
Clearly I am completely full of emotions all around because this book really just had me feeling all kinds of things. This is the first Lori M. Lee novel that I had the pleasure of reading – I did end up buying her first duology because I had been wanting to read it for a while now – and I am so glad to see that she is one of my newest favorite authors!
We start this novel with Sirscha trying to secure her position as the official apprentice to the current Queen’s Shadow, Kendara. The position of Shadow acts as the Queen’s spy and assassin, someone who does not have to abide by any sort of rules or regulations except from the Queen herself. Any kind of information the Queen needs to know, the Shadow will get it by any means necessary. Some of the tasks that Kendara has Sirscha do… well even if they don’t always have an end goal, they always have some sort of lesson involved. In hindsight, it may have given Sirscha the edge to handle everything that she had to endure in her life during the events of this novel.
One of the tasks that Kendara has Sirscha do is enlist in the Queen’s Company (think of it as a royal army), which leads her and her best friend Saengo on the adventure of their lives. Not only are there shamans involved and the world as they know it may wind up in a war between the surrounding empires, but the Dead Wood – home to countless souls that seems to be growing without provocation – is determined to be more than they bargained for, and Ronin, the Dead Wood’s Spider King is shrouded in mystery for our two best friends.
The distinctions of the shamanic crafts that Lee created was really unique, and including her glossary in the front of the book really helped me keep track of all of the ones that weren’t as easy to remember. Having five main shamanic crafts rather than just the four main elements was really interesting, and the fifth one is the most interesting and most intriguing if I do say so myself. The worldbuilding is absolutely stellar, and I was so enamored with everything in this novel that I’m pretty sure I forgot about my real life duties for a while there. I know a book is going to be amazing when that happens, and Lee did not disappoint whatsoever.
The dynamic between Sirscha and Saengo definitely changed after *the incident* and I really like how Lee explored that in this novel. I could only imagine how Sirscha must have felt harboring that much guilt for something that she didn’t realize that she did but couldn’t change, not to mention Saengo having to deal with the unexpected consequences that she didn’t ask for in the first place. If they weren’t close before, they were bonded for life now, and the kind of relationship that they had to have in order to stay alive and protect one another was flushed out really well. I could feel the angst between the two girls in the beginning after they had to come to terms with what happened, and I could feel them trying to pull the pieces back together to make it seem like things were back to normal, even if they couldn’t be. Lee mentioned in an interview that sometimes friendships can be stronger than other kinds of relationships, and the friendship between Sirscha and Saengo really defined their survival and strength in this novel. I almost felt like in a way, they were almost like soulmates. I don’t think soulmates always have to be romantic – I feel like my best friend is my soulmate – and my relationship with my best friend is reminiscent of Sircha and Saengo… well without the life or death situation. It was a beautiful friendship and felt so real, and it was just wonderful to read about.
The politics in this world were also interesting, and I like that there were moments where Sirscha’s narration would give some background on what happened in the past for the benefit of the reader. It made me feel more up to speed on what was happening, and why certain situations were the way they were. Of course, she wasn’t omniscient, so she didn’t know everything, but at least knowing everything that she knew helped to be informed and see things from her perspective. I really enjoyed seeing this world through Sirscha’s eyes – oh her beautiful, beautiful eyes – and watching her grow from a potential spy and assassin to something else entirely. Her interactions with Ronin (The Spider King) and Theyen were great as well, and I like that there was no unnecessary romance that didn’t come out of nowhere or seemed to move too fast or anything like that. I also liked how Sirscha described Theyen as insufferable to his face because he was being a know-it-all.
Long story short – since this review is super long! – and as you can tell, I really loved this book, and I am absolutely dying to read the sequel. I imagine that Lee is going to blow it out of the water yet again, and I am officially a huge fan. I look forward to reading everything that Lee has to offer, both past, present and future.
The #OwnVoices representation for this novel is Hmong. For those of you who don’t know what Hmong is, the Hmong people are a Southeast Asian ethnic group in Southeast Asia and China. They are a sub-group of the Miao people, and live mainly in southern China, Vietnam and Laos. They are sometimes mistaken for being Chinese, but are not. Lori has identified as Hmong and is very open about this so we wanted to make sure that we were correct in identifying this correctly.
As you have seen with my previous dream casts, I do my very best to ensure that my dream casts are as ethnically accurate as possible. I will continue to do so. Additionally, I’ll add what ethnicities my choices identify as if they are publicly available so you can see why I chose them. I hope this helps others when they do their dream casts in the future, as I feel it is important to take a character’s race and ethnicity into account rather than whitewash or dismiss it.
Side note but WOW is Brenda Song really the only Hmong actress that I know of?! That’s really sad. If you know any other actresses – Hollywood or not, that could be my problem – that identify as Hmong, let me know!
I haven’t made a customized playlist in a WHILE, fam. I’m glad that I’m breaking that streak with Forest of Souls, because it definitely deserves that mermaid service that I can provide. So I hope you like the songs that I picked, and please feel free to let me know what kind of songs you feel give you some Forest of Souls vibes! I’d love to listen to them.
Did you know that Lori was on a podcast too? Take a listen to Lori’s first podcast feature on the show What Book Hooked You? here!
Three more days until Forest of Souls is out in the world! Thank you so much to everyone that was able to celebrate it early with us at Hear Our Voices, and those that shared their love for this book even earlier! I can’t wait to hear all of your thoughts when you get your hands on this book. Please think of me when you’re reading it and let me know when you get to *that* part so I can fangirl with you!
Thanks for visiting my blog today and thanks for hanging out with me this week. See you soon!