"There's no hiding from life, just as there is no hiding from death."
'Seven Endless Forests' by April Genevieve Tucholke is a standalone companion to a 2018 title called 'The Boneless Mercies.' It's an interesting retelling of the legend of King Arthur.. melded with distinctly Norse influences, though here they're called the Vorse, and featuring a strong female lead instead of Arthur.
A destructive plague wipes out most of Torvi's family. Only she and her sister Morgunn survive. When Morgunn is stolen away by a Fremish wolf-priest who bears the name Uther, our main character begins her quest to save the only family she has left.
Joined by a magic wielding, shaven-skulled druid named Gyda who seeks a mythical sword lodged in a cursed tree, the two quickly stumble across a group roaming artists called the Butcher Bards. The group already on a quest of their own, accompanies the two girls.
"I put my palm to chest and pressed in, as if I could hold the shards of my heart together by sheer force."
Along their path, they meet many more unique groups. Sea witches, mystical Drakes who trade in magic readings and young men, a mysterious black tower in a forest corrupted by dark spells, a pack of bold Vorseland Quicks.. archers that hunt the wolves, Fremish wizards who deal only in trades that may be too costly, rogue Jade Fell children, and even a Pig Witch converge with them here and there. There's much more that I haven't mentioned, plenty of difficult trials and unexpected turns.
Each magic system is relatively distinctive, though the author doesn't go into them too deeply. The scenes of conflict are vividly described and memorable. There is love and loss, joy and tragedy, and Tucholke is not afraid to kill a character.. so be prepared. The adventure is grand.. they travel for weeks, there's extensive character and story development, and a lot to experience before you reach the end.
"Quick moves, quiet blades--this is the way of the Bards."
The writer is gifted. In the early pages when the plague kills those around Torvi, while we never really meet the boy she's in love with.. as he's already dead, she does such a good job of conveying the longing and sense of loss the Vorse girl feels for him, I found myself saddened at his passing too. In the small ways she remembers him.. honors him.. it feels like we've met him.. and I could feel the hole in her life he left behind.
While not everything I hoped for happened in the novel, the decisions the author made still felt right. My hopes were based on the emotions she created in me during the read and she's a bit fearless in not always giving into those hopes she must know we have.
"You are part of our family now. Our success is your success. We are one."
I loved the way she wove the Norse legends and mythologies together with the King Arthur tales. It felt original and elegant. The female characters were strong, but not overdone to the point they felt more like caricatures of strength. Their doubts and weaknesses.. their missteps.. felt natural.
If you enjoy medieval tales, Norse mythology, Vikings, Druids, and classic magic.. this book is for you. I enjoyed it so much, I'll be seeking out other titles from Tucholke in future.