Series: Shamanborn #1
Published by Page Street Kids
Published on 23 June 2020
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Source: my local library
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Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training, she plans on challenging her rival for the position of the queen’s next royal spy, but she’s forced to abandon her plan when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.
And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.
With her mysterious ability uncovered, Sirscha is summoned to the domain of the Spider King—the only person powerful enough to control the haunted Dead Wood that separates the kingdoms and, ultimately, enforces peace. But the Spider King’s hold of the Dead Wood is weakening, and he needs Sirscha to use her newly awakened powers to obliterate the bloodthirsty forest. As war looms on the horizon, it’s up to Sirscha to learn what she can do and who she can trust before time runs out.
I really liked Lori M Lee’s short story Steel Skin in A Thousand Beginning and Endings, so I was really looking forward to Forest of Souls
I think Sirscha’s name is supposed to be Saoirse, as in Saoirse Ronan (Saoirse is pronounced “Sur-sha”), the Irish actress. It’s like the author heard the name and went, “Oh cool, I’ll use both those names, but I can’t spell it the way Saoirse does because no one knows how to pronounce that, also my Spider King can have her surname Ronin, no one will ever know.”
This is what happened when I googled ‘how do you pronounce Saoirse?’
Now that’s out of the way, let me speak about the contents of the book.
I will start by saying that it was not my type of book. Yes, it was an imaginative, somewhat original, diverse YA fantasy about a magical girl with a strong female friendship, which, if you know me, is TOTALLY my jam… however, it also starred a heroine who was already super-powered, annoyingly entitled/arrogant, and magically tapped into her magical powers exactly the moment it was needed, who didn’t display any character growth whatsoever, and consistently made bad and/or stupid decisions.
Also bringing this book down was a massive glossary at the front of the book like I was reading some kind of textbook, plot holes the size of my fist, and intense, overwhelming, and over-complicated world-building, where ‘wending’ was basically ‘bending’ the elements but every minor power had some fancy name. It made me feel like I was studying a textbook or reading Lord of the Rings (and not in a good way!) I read to relax, not to memorise a hundred different powers and their unique names. To be fair, I think some people might enjoy this kind of world-building.
I also can’t stand inconsistency when it’s basically gaslighting the reader, trying to manipulate us into thinking a character is better, more sympathetic, or more noble than they really are. Sirscha’s BFF Saengo told her that she’s the most compassionate person she’s ever met… and I’m just like what? Sirscha literally has a demonic grin every time she fights someone. She enjoys inflicting pain and terror on others, she positively revels in it. And she’s compassionate? How?
Sirscha is also one of those super-powered heroines with no weaknesses. She’s super-adept at everything she tries (except the magic she can’t control but saves her because reasons), she’s the best fighter in the world, she’s a natural fighter. She flips and dodges and basically never gets hurt. She hasn’t even finished her training. And she’s so arrogant! I can’t stand those entitled YA heroines who mouth off at people in power. It doesn’t make you a badass, it makes you a moron. She gets away with it because the author wants her to.
I understand that she’s a soldier with allegedly lots of training (not that we get to see ANY of it, not even in flashbacks, because she’s already super-powered at the start of the book), but that kind of training also should have stopped her from being an entitled, mouthy brat. Her recklessness and disregard for authority is at odds with the apparently rigid and rigorous soldier training, and the society in which she is born into. Like, there is no reason for her character to be how she is except that it’s ‘cool’. I just know that many fans who adore Celeana the assassin who doesn’t assassinate anyone will find another character to worship in Sirscha. Is she quite as bad as little miss badass damsel in distress? No, but she’s same type of entitled superpowered character that annoy me so much, that mouth of at royalty and more infuriatingly get away with it because the author likes them too much.
Where’s her weakness? Where’s her character growth? What story is this character telling? How has the story impacted her and changed her from the start to the end of the book?
I did like that there was no romance because the intense relationship was supposed to be with her BFF Saengo, but it would have been nicer to see more of that friendship rather than Sirscha always going off by herself to fuck things up.
Overall, would I recommend this book? No.