Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Review: Gods of the Wyrdwood by R.J. Barker


Gods of the Wyrdwood by R.J. Barker
Publication Date: June 27th, 2023
Paperback. 640 pages.

About Gods of the Wyrdwood:

"Ours is a land of many gods, and we are a people with the ability to pick the worst of them.

Cahan du Nahare is known as the forester - a humble man who can nonetheless navigate the dangerous Deepforest like no-one else. But once he was more. Once he was a warrior.

Udinny serves the goddess of the lost, a goddess of the small and helpless. When she ventures into the Deepforest to find a missing child, Cahan will be her guide.

But in a land at war, in a forest full of monsters - Cahan will need to choose between his past life and the one he leads now - and his choice will have consequences for his entire world.

R.J. Barker continues to be an author who never fails to bring something new to the fantasy genre and blow my mind a bit in the process. Gods of the Wyrdwood plays with the very classic (and much-loved) ideas of mysterious forests in fantasy, but something about Barker's take on creepy forests really stands out from others and is a must-read for anyone who loves a forest setting.

Gods of the Wyrdwood follows Cahan du Nahare, a clanless man who spends much of his life living on his own just outside town on the edge of the forest. Cahan was taken as a child and raised in preparation to become Cowl-Rai, a chosen one capable of magical abilities that would help save the land. But unforeseen happenings left him one of the clanless and living on his own in seclusion. He doesn't mind the life he is now living, but naturally even more unforeseen circumstances are about to bring big changes to Cahan's seemingly mundane life and thrust him into roles he wasn't exactly looking for. 

Much as in Barker's previous Tide Child trilogy, there isn't much handholding or general guidance when it comes to world-building; instead, readers are introduced to this world in an upfront manner and left to navigate their way through it. Fortunately, Barker's skillful writing makes this an undemanding and rewarding task, as I loved slowly discovering more and more about this world, its gods, the creatures within it, and so much more. It took a little while to really feel like I had my bearings in this world, but it happened in a very gradual manner to where I didn't even realize that I went from feeling like I knew nothing about this world to feeling like I had a decent grasp on it–and everything else that I didn't understand felt like it was supposed to be that way, which worked incredibly well for the story. 

Gods of the Wyrdwood is a slow paced story that doesn't feel like it's meant to be rushed through (and considering it took me nearly two weeks to read–which is quite a bit to be on one book for me–it felt right to be reading at that pace) and spends plenty of time not focused solely on getting from one plot point to the next. That's not to say that the plot is weak in this book, but rather that there's a lot of focus on the world and the forest itself, as well as on our characters. 

And speaking of characters, I really enjoyed getting to know Cahan over the course of his journeys in this book. He's a quiet character with a difficult past, and spends his days as a forester living at the edge of the forest. He holds a vast knowledge of the forests (Woodedge, Harnwood, and Wyrdwood–Wyrdwood being the deepest, most unpredictable, and most dangerous), which benefits him throughout the book, and has a preference for solitude. I also really liked Udinny, a rather peculiar character who accompanies Cahan on some of his treks through the forest. She brought a really great sense of humor and relief to the darker atmosphere that hangs over the story and maintained an air of curiosity and general lightness that I think provided a wonderful foil to Cahan.  

The world-building in Gods of the Wyrdwood is easily one of its biggest highlights for me. There are so many unique creatures that exist within the forests, ranging from the relatively harmless to those best left avoided at all costs. These creatures include Segur, some sort of creature that acts as a sort of pet to Cahan, though pet does not feel like the right word at all. It has great loyalty to Cahan and also acts as a bit of a protector to him when possible, often refusing to leave his side even when Cahan requests him to. I found myself struggling to picture what many of these different beings looked like, including Segur, but I think that made them all of the more wondrous and terrifying to consider when given bits of descriptions that made them sound all the more horrifying. 

The sheer imaginative elements of this world and everything within it are truly a bounty of entertainment for anyone who enjoys expansive and detailed components of a world. We don't necessarily explore far reaches of this world–though I wonder if that might change in future installments?–but the depth of the world we do explore is rich and memorable. I will say that if you like to have very clear images of everything in your fantasy novels, you might get a little frustrated at some aspects of this book, but if you don't mind a little bit of vagueness here and there then you shouldn't have many issues. 

Overall, I've given Gods of the Wyrdwood 4.5 stars! I really cannot wait to see what R.J. Barker is going to do with this story next and I look forward to the sequel. 

*I received a copy of Gods of the Wyrdwood courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Bookshop.org

1 comment:

  1. I loved this too, not quite as much as the Tide Child series, but I loved getting to know the characters and the world. I'm excited for the next book!