Goodreads: The Forest Queen
Published: August 2018
When Silvie’s brother John becomes sheriff and tries to marry Silvie off to a nobleman, Silvie runs off to the forest with her best friend Bird. Initially, she has no plans other than trying to survive the winter. But the commoners keep arriving and they seem to think she’s going to rebel. Can Silvie come up with a plan to save them from the crushing taxes? Does she even really want to? (A gender-swapped retelling of “Robin Hood.”)
“John never climbed the trees with us. But sometimes he would wait on the ground as we climbed, and I could feel his gaze on the back of my legs, watching.”
The Forest Queen is going on my list of YA books so dark I almost could not stomach them. The threat of sexual violence was ever-present in this book and at some points I was not sure I wanted to continue reading. It never seemed like there was a redeeming moment and all the talk about simply surviving being heroic did not inspire me. I spent the bulk of the book feeling alternately disturbed by the content, baffled by the uselessness of the protagonist, and annoyed by the prose style.
To describe the content, I would obviously have to go into spoilers, but, if you are interested, I have included a “Content Note” at the bottom of the review. Nothing the book contains is graphically described–except, perhaps, the killing of a stag in a hunt. However, the book really impressed me with the idea that everything was horrible and no woman will ever be safe, and I had trouble with this. I guess I just want to read more books where the female characters don’t seem always to be reacting to the violence enacted upon them. I recognize that, of course, discussing sexual violence and its effects is very, very important. I just also think that it would be nice to represent more woman who are not constantly being victimized and who are strong in and of themselves.
To add to this, the protagonist is one of those useless ones who are constantly told how wonderful and inspirational they are, despite the fact that they barely do anything. Silvie’s friend/lover Bird is the driving force behind her flight to the forest and he’s the one who gathers supplies and comes up with ways to survive. (Not surprising–she’s a noble who’s never had to survive in the wild before.) Silvie’s just in the forest because she is tired of living under her brother’s finger. She has no long-term plan. She’s not even sure she can survive one winter. But the commoners flock to her and make her their leader, because…? She’s a noble and they’re used to listening to her? I’d honestly nominate Bird the leader as he seems the most useful, the most knowledgeable, and the most charismatic. But this is a gender-swapped Robin Hood, so I guess that wouldn’t work.
Finally, the prose style is grating. You can take a look at the sample quote above to get the general idea. We get a lot of obscure hinting that tries to make the story feel mysterious and deep. Layering that sort of thing, however, eventually makes the story sound silly more than anything else. It’s really difficult to read a couple hundred pages of it.
I was excited to read a retelling of “Robin Hood,” but The Forest Queen disappointed me. I found none of the charm of the original, none of the wonderful camaraderie, the golden afternoons, the sheer delight in feats of arms and in trickery. Instead, I felt uninspired by the protagonist, overwhelmed by the darkness, and annoyed by the prose. I understand some may enjoy this book, but I will not be recommending it.
Content Notes: rape, attempted suicide, threat of incest