GODS OF THE WYRDWOOD by RJ Barker
Orbit Books. h/b. £20.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Ventday, Cahan’s favourite day. Which god would the visitors be worshipping today, the young Cahan would wonder. The monks would come first. Then a parade. An excitement. But only ever passing through. They never stop here… until now. With the visitors comes change, yet it would be far from the last time a visitor changed the course of Cahan’s life.
Cahan du Nahere, many years later, is known as the forester. Clanless. Alone. He has lived life and made choices that others in his position would not understand. Now, Cahan lives on the edge of one of Crua’s great forests, one of very few who understand even a fraction of the forest’s secrets. He has chosen to live in peace and has… until now when another visitor brings another change.
Gods of the Wyrd Wood focuses mostly around Cahan, who on that first Ventday was chosen as Cowl-Rai. Later, under the name of another god, another Cowl-Rai was chosen, leaving Cahan to eventually deny his power and assume the role of the forester, living apart from society. He sits at the heart of this story and becomes guide and protector to a traveling monk, Udinny. Their stories become intertwined, and together, they travel deep into the forest where few can survive, and fewer come back from.
Barker introduces a vast, dark world that in this first volume is different to anything we have ever seen before, populated with unique creatures and written to the same lush level of detail that we have seen in previous works.
This first book in The Forsaken Trilogy is a commitment. Long, languid, and despite its size, many elements of this new world are left tantalisingly vague. Alongside Udinny, the trion, Venn, is crucial to the story without us really finding out what they are or why they are so significant. With all the time spent in the forest, the reader is left with the feeling that we have barely scratched the surface in terms of knowing its mysteries or many inhabitants. Same too with the magic system. We know there are warring faiths, and we know the terrible damage Cahan’s power can do, but there is much more that the book leaves us desperate to understand.
One thing is for sure, this is a world we are only just beginning to understand and a story that will leave us clawing to uncover more.