Book Title: The Drowned Woods
Author: Emily Lloyd-Jones
Release Date: August 16, 2022
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling, LGTBQ+
My rating: 4/5 Stars
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.
The Drowned Woods—set in the same world as The Bone Houses but with a whole new, unforgettable cast of characters—is part heist novel, part dark fairy tale.
Having read and loved the Bone Houses, I was so excited to learn I’d been gifted an ARC for The Drowned Woods. Before this one, I’d read two books by Emily Lloyd-Jones, and both were absolutely captivating. Because of this, I had high expectations going in. The Drowned Woods is a magical and mesmerizing fantasy novel that follows quite the interesting cast of characters.
The world building was one of my favorite parts of the Drowned Woods. Each description of the current setting was vast and comprehensive, easily allowing me to imagine the scenery. The inclusion of two of the main characters’ back stories—Mer and Fane—was an excellent addition to the story. It really set the scene for the direction the book would be heading, as well as what the two had endured to get to this point in their lives.
In addition to the world building, I found the magic system fascinating. There are different diviners with the power to control certain elements. Mer is a water diviner, and through her we learn a lot about how each power works. There are also otherfolk (essentially fae) hidden in the forest that we still don’t know a whole lot about, but could make for a fantastic exploration in a future book. Fane’s past is directly linked to the otherfolk, which leads to some intriguing reveals later on that had me waiting on the edge of my seat.
While the characters were each unique and fleshed out, I’d say I had trouble connecting with them more than any other aspect of the story. I can’t quite put my finger on why. All three of the main characters—Mer, Fane, and Ifanna—had well thought out backstories and characteristics, but still I found something lacking. I will say that Ifanna was my favorite of three, and I wish we’d had even more time with her. As part of the thieves guild, she made for a compelling character with a feisty attitude, badass fighting skills, and a history of pain that she was still working through.
Mer, on the other hand, was closed off due to the traumas of her childhood. Her character is what I would call a “stoic badass.” This allowed for her and Fane to form a special bond due to their shared grief. Fane’s family was taken from him at a young age, and because of this, he distanced himself from others (and because of other reasons I won’t get into due to spoilers). Until he meets Mer. She’s the only one he feels comfortable being himself around, so the two grow close throughout the course of the novel. I enjoyed their friendship a lot, and the progression of their relationship was pleasant and natural.
So, even though I had a harder time connecting with the characters than I did the story’s plot and world, they were all well-written and developed. However, there is one character who I had zero issues connecting with, and that’s Fane’s companion, Trefor the corgi. He was such a sweet and endearing addition to the plot. When things looked bleak, Trefor would always be there to give a boost in attitude. I absolutely love his inclusion in this book!
All in all, though, I really enjoyed the Drowned Woods. This take on the Welsh legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod was fascinating, atmospheric, and a delight to read. If you enjoyed the Bone Houses like I did, then I highly suggest checking out the Drowned Woods! It won’t disappoint!
Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC, and to TBR and Beyond Tours and the publisher for providing me with a physical ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
About the Author:
Emily Lloyd-Jones grew up on a vineyard in rural Oregon, where she played in evergreen forests and learned to fear sheep. She has a BA in English from Western Oregon University and a MA in publishing from Rosemont College. She currently resides in Northern California, where she enjoys wandering in redwood forests. Her young adult novels include Illusive, Deceptive, The Hearts We Sold, The Bone Houses, and the forthcoming The Drowned Woods. Her debut middle grade, Unseen Magic, will release in 2022.
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