The Crooked Forest

Joni Franks

Publisher: Xlibris Pages: 58 Price: (paperback) $18.99 ISBN: 9781669874966 Reviewed: August, 2023 Author Website: Visit »

Book two in a series, The Crooked Forest: Cloud Crazed continues the meandering story of Willow, a fairylike being who undertakes a journey to find her mother, who was forcibly separated from Willow in the first book.

The story begins after the last chapter of The Crooked Forest: Legacy of the Holey Stone but doesn’t recap that book. It weaves together scenes focused on Willow; Willow’s mother, Luna; and a new primary character, Wynter. Wynter falls in love with Aiden, the book’s antagonist and a carryover from the original story, until she learns of his wicked deeds, including diverting a stream that worsened a drought in her homeland.

Wynter leaves Aiden and happens upon Willow. They travel together as Wynter tries to heal from her heartbreak via a quest she received from a magical creature named May Fae. Eventually, Wynter and Willow part ways. Willow then encounters a troll named Pickletoe, to whom she gives advice on attracting a mate before continuing to seek her mother.

The story is peppered with lessons about self-acceptance but reads as a series of scenes rather than a coherent plot. It jumps between characters who often seem as if they couldn’t navigate the world without being given their quests. For example, when Wynter undertakes her quest to gather herbs over a year, it isn’t until she drinks the resultant brew, as instructed, that she understands how to move on. This framing removes her agency in healing after heartbreak.

Additionally, while the layout and proportions resemble a picture book, the text is dense and complicated, and the illustrations, while nicely rendered, appear roughly every six pages, too infrequent for a children’s picture book. The content seems best suited to readers ages eight to 12, but this audience will likely be deterred by the picture book format.

While the story could appeal to those who enjoy fairytales with dark themes, it may struggle commercially due to its presentation.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

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