An absolutely bewitching tale of a witch on the run, an unwilling muscle for hire who refuses violence, and an adorable corgi, The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones is a fast-paced and enchanting YA fantasy heist story that will keep you turning the pages late into the night.
Once upon a time, the kingdoms of Wales were rife with magic and conflict, and eighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is well-acquainted with both. She is the last living water diviner and has spent years running from the prince who bound her into his service. Under the prince’s orders, she located the wells of his enemies, and he poisoned them without her knowledge, causing hundreds of deaths. After discovering what he had done, Mer went to great lengths to disappear from his reach. Then Mer’s old handler returns with a proposition: use her powers to bring down the very prince that abused them both.
The best way to do that is to destroy the magical well that keeps the prince’s lands safe. With a motley crew of allies, including a fae-cursed young man, the lady of thieves, and a corgi that may or may not be a spy, Mer may finally be able to steal precious freedom and peace for herself. After all, a person with a knife is one thing…but a person with a cause can topple kingdoms.
Ratings: 5 Out Of 5
Trigger Warnings: Mild violence and torture, character death (not explicit), child abuse (not explicit), death of parents (mentioned)
Release Date: August 17th, 2022
The main character, Mer, is a water diviner who was stolen from her biological family by the crown prince to be used as his weapon. She is every bit the YA heroine you would love to read about–she has no issues killing people for survival, but she will happily throw away her freedom and risk her life to protect innocents.
In fact, it’s her unwavering moral compass that lands her in trouble and sets off the story; Mer is on the run when she is recruited by Renfrew, her former kidnapper/stand-in-father, the renowned spymaster. He gives her an offer she cannot refuse: destabilize the prince and his precious kingdom, still his fortune, and win back her freedom.
I’ll admit, in the beginning, it was a bit hard to delve into this story. And I found it a bit difficult to even appreciate Mer as a character. But with every chapter, she grew on me. I loved watching her transform from a woman on the run, to a woman on a mission to pull off an impossible heist, to becoming a hero who chooses the lives of others over her own.
The book is narrated through multiple perspectives, the primary being that of Mer and Fane–our other main character who stole my heart immediately. Like Mer, Fane is also powerful, but while Mer isn’t above using her power to shed blood, Fane is completely against the use of violence even if it is to save his own skin.
Which is extremely ironic because Fane’s gift is that if he chooses to hurt someone, he cannot stop until he kills them, and when he is recruited on the heist, his role is to play the muscle for hire.
Oh, and we also have a corgi! He is quite an important main character too. I absolutely every single scene he was in. <3
It is through these contradictory characters that the story begins to unveil itself. On the surface, The Drowned Woods seems like a thrilling YA fantasy adventure about a heist, but since the plot is very much character-driven, the author slowly and masterfully reveals an unexpected twist that I could have never predicted. There is a bit of romance thrown in, but it is never the focus and develops very, very slowly as our main characters grow and mature over the course of the events of the book.
The world-building was phenomenal; I absolutely loved the descriptions of each and every location, but particularly those of the fairy lands and otherwordly creatures. There are many, many references to Welsh myth here, a subject that I am completely unfamiliar with but will definitely be looking into now, and they were interwoven masterfully into the plot of the story. The magic system was intriguing too–it was just the right amount of mystery, but there was a balanced logic to it that made it almost believable.
And the character development was absolutely spot on for everyone–not only for Mer and Fane, but also for other characters such as Renfrew, Mer’s secondary love interest Ifanna (yay for bisexual rep!), and even the “villain” Prince Garanhir. I say villains with quotes, because in truth, while there are cruel and merciless characters in this book, there are no stereotypical good guys or bad guys–all of the characters are varying shades of morally grey, and I absolutely loved it.
“The greater good” is a central theme of this novel, and I loved how the author makes us question: at what point do we draw the line? At what point does justice become vengeance, and how can we, as mere individuals, choose which lives should be sacrificed, when all life is innocent and sacred?
As this is a standalone book, the author wraps up the ending perfectly. All lose ends are tied, and yet, I am a bit conflicted about the final resolution. A part of me wishes that the author had ended the story several chapters ahead–with an unexpected tragedy. It would have been more realistic and profound, in my opinion. At the same time, the real world has enough tragedies on its own, so why not have a happy ending in fantasy instead?
And what a beautiful, happy ending it was.
It took me a while to continue with this book and truly immerse myself in it, but boy am I glad I took my time and finished it. A truly phenomenal, and unforgettable fairy tale, The Drowned Woods is a must-read for anyone who loves fairy tales, magic, unapologetic heroines, and cute adorable corgis.
Meet The Author: Emily Lloyd-Jones
Emily Lloyd-Jones grew up on a vineyard in rural Oregon, where she played in evergreen forests and learned to fear sheep. After graduating from Western Oregon University with an English degree, she enrolled in the publishing program at Rosemont College just outside of Philadelphia. She currently resides in Northern California.
Pre-order The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones
If you enjoyed this review and you think this book is for you, then support the author by pre-ordering The Drowned Woods. The book comes out this summer, on August 17th, 2022.
Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy for this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for giving me a chance to review this book.
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