The Forest Queen by Betsy Cornwall


Goodreads: The Forest Queen
Series: None
Source: Library
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

1 star

16 thoughts on “The Forest Queen by Betsy Cornwall

  1. Greg says:

    Aw, sorry to hear this was disappointing. I’ve only read one of her books- Tides- and when I saw she was tackling Robin Hood I was really curious. Sounds like it may be a little darker than I’m interested in though, as well. Definitely doesn’t sound like essential reading. Thanks for sharing!


    • Krysta says:

      For me, Robin Hood is really all about the camaraderie and the sheer delight in living. This book had none of that. Living was a struggle, to the point were merely surviving from one day to the next was counted as a triumph, even if everything remained horrible. While I can appreciate triumph in survival, however, it’s just not Robin Hood. :/


      • Greg says:

        I tend to agree. A little darkness or grittiness is okay, to capture the time period, but I do want the camaraderie, to some extent the fantasy of a merry band in the woods of Sherwood. Almost like it’s a realm apart. The sheer delight in living- that’s a great way of putting it!


  2. Grab the Lapels says:

    I actually know Betsy Cornwell. We were in the same MFA program. She got there the year after I graduated, and so while we never had a class together, we would go to the movies on the weekends. I remember her talking about writing novels (like we all would), but she had this seriousness about her, like she could actually do it, and that impressed me. She was even writing fantasy novels in high school (I was listening to Metallica those years). I bought Mechanica, but I haven’t read it yet. One of the biggest criticisms I’ve read is that it’s just like Cinder, despite having been written and contracted with a publisher first. Plus, I think some younger readers aren’t aware that MANY retellings already exist, and that cyberpunk and steampunk aren’t the same thing. Venturess is the follow-up novel to Mechanica, so I’ll likely read both if I enjoy the first one.

    A few years ago, I had a guest reviewer look at Tides in 2013. Here is what the reviewer had to say about this selkie fairy tale:


    • Krysta says:

      I’ve vaguely meant to read Mechanica for some time, but think I won’t after reading The Forest Queen. Despite the glowing description of Tides’ “lyrical” prose by your guest reviewer, I found the prose in The Forest Queen did not strike me so. Also, I didn’t think Cinder was particularly special– it’s a solid, kind of standard YA but not amazing–so if Mechanica is like Cinder, maybe it’s not for me. Unless the comparison is just superficial because of the cyberpunk/steampunk thing.

      It’s fabulous Cornwall is doing well and that other people are enjoying her work. I just don’t think I’ll end up being a fan of her books.


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Ooh, I read Mechanica and liked it, but for some reason I didn’t realize this is the same author. It wouldn’t even occur to me to compare it to Cinder. Sure, both are Cinderella retellings and the protagonist is good with mechanical stuff. They’re really very different otherwise!


    • Krysta says:

      I get what she’s trying to do, especially in light of the MeToo movement. But I do think that books need a little light to balance out the darkness. This book made everything seem hopeless, despite attempts to say otherwise. :/

      I also think that the sexual violence was perhaps not handled particularly well. I think the sexual threats to the protagonist seemed extraneous, like they were there to be disturbing/shocking and not because they were necessary to the story or because they were helping readers expand their understanding of a serious issue.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      The cover IS very beautiful. But, in the end, I felt like some of the content was included just to be disturbing/make the story dark and not because it was being used to broaden readers’ understanding of a serious issue or because it was necessary to the plot. And I don’t think sexual violence should come across as being used primarily for atmosphere. 😦


  3. Sarah says:

    Wow – this book doesn’t sound at all like I was expecting. I too was hoping for an epic Robin Hood retelling so I think I’ll give this one a miss. Thanks for the heads-up! However my favourite Robin Hood retelling is “The Forest Wife” by Theresa Tomlinson, if you want some strong female characters definitely give that one a try 🙂


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