Seven Endless Forests by April Genevieve Tucholke
In a world crushed by plague, two sisters can only rely on each other. Their reality is crushed further when Morgunn is kidnapped wolf-priests and Torvi sets out to rescue her with companions she meets along the way. Together they face dark magic, sea witches and a mythical sword known to have great power.
You know a book has done its job when you are so consumed with the story that you forget who and what you are. This loose retelling of the Arthur legend unexpectedly dug its claws into my heart through its atmospheric writing and magical aesthetic. I felt very embedded in the story as though I am right there with the characters on a dangerous mission, not an outsider looking in. The constant mention of what the characters are eating, drinking and even smoking (all very fancy herbal blends that they forage), really visualise the location.
The style of writing is very lyrical, which makes the dark themes come across as very creepy and fairytale-like. This created a very enchanting and mystical reading experience and although technically a companion to Tucholke's, The Boneless Mercies, it is a standalone story merely set within the same world. I myself haven't read the aforementioned novel yet did not feel lost at all.
I was very impressed with the plot twists of the story as the key to a gripping plot is to place unexpected twists throughout, not just at the end. Seven Endless Forests delivered. I began to feel unsettled as I made my way through the story because every other chapter has that surprise element. You quickly learn not to become content with a current situation as danger looms at every corner.
I found that for a relatively short novel however, it did take a substantial amount of pages to take us to the main storyline. From knowing the premise, the reader is already familiar with the general plot and so there is no need to delay events to the extent that it did. This caused the majority of the beginning to be a huge downside for me. Shorter books are generally faster-paced, and rightly so, as they don't contain the page count to deal with vast worldbuilding and setting the scene and here the balance of pacing wasn't as seamless as I would have expected. It downright infuriated me how harsh the pacing was at irregular intervals and lagged at others.
While some events of the story felt randomly placed and out of the blue, there was a huge payoff for some of those loose ends towards the end. Additionally, my knowledge about this world snuck up on me, as Tucholke' masterfully weaves in details about these characters that immediately make you invested in their wellbeing without knowing everything about them.
If you are looking for a darkly magical tale filled with medieval lore, I would highly recommend adding Seven Endless Forests to your list!