Raffa and his cousin Garith enjoy working in their parents' apothecaries in their small village, even though Raffa is far more talented at making potions. When Raffa finds a badly injured bat, his parents discuss a vine that grows in the forest that may help. The forest is dangerous, but the cousins go together and manage to find the vine. The potion Raffa makes, however, has an odd side effect-- the bat, Echo, can talk to him. His parents don't believe it, and are occupied by other things. They have been asked to move to the main townof Gilden and live in the Commons while working for Obsidia's government. They end up declining, although Garith and his father leave to work there. When Raffa makes another potion with the vine that almost costs him his hand, he realizes that it is a very powerful substance, and feels a need to warn his cousin. He takes off on the long journey to the city, and makes several friends along the way; Kuma, who has tamed a bear, and Trixen, who works in the kitchens as an assistant jam and pickle maker. The three run afoul of the guards on their way in, but are pardoned by the Chancelor, who tells them about her plans to train animals, using the potions that Raffa has made to help them communicate. Unfortunately, the friends discover a plan that is even more evil. There will be more details when book two comes out!
Raffa has a tendency to get into trouble, as do the other young characters, but it was refreshing to see his parents bring him in line. Of course, that doesn't stop him from running away and doing things that are of questionable safety, but I thought it was an important message that he thought about the results of his action because of how his parents had raised him. This made his reaction to the evil government plot all the more believable.
Obsidia is set in a rather medieval world; we learn a bit of its history of earthquakes and destruction, but not nearly enough. There is a map at the beginning of the book, and I hope that there will be more of the back story of Gilden, the Commons, and the Forest of Wonders in the sequel. This world felt vaguely Celtic as well; I was hoping for something a little different.
Readers who like the action and adventure in classic high fantasy like Alexander's Book of Three, Jacques Redwall series, or Prineas' The Magic Thief will find that Forest of Wonders, with its appealing animal companions and satisfying does of magic, is a pleasant yet exciting place to spend an afternoon.
Fantasy is always tricky for me, but I rather enjoyed this one. Will purchase and gladly recommend to my new crop of insatiable readers of medieval fantasy.