Taking place in the author’s prime element, 14th century Germany, The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest is a sort of gender-flipped Robin Hood/Swan Lake mashup with an inspirational bent. The book is rife with middle-ages atmosphere, covert betrayals, familial obligations, conundrums of faith, and questionable acts of philanthropy.
Although she enjoys the many privileges of being the ward of her wealthy merchant uncle, Odette hasn’t forgotten the sting of poverty and neglect she experienced for years as a child—after her parents succumbed to a plague outbreak. As a result, she’s dedicated herself to teaching the poor and orphaned children of Thornbeck to read by day—and secretly poaching animals from the King’s land by night in an effort to keep them fed. Thanks to her uncle’s indulgence, she has turned down many offers of marriage and become the oldest eligible maiden in the city. But change is in the air. Her uncle’s business endeavors have faced recent failures, and it’s looking more and more advantageous for her to finally bind herself to man—preferably one with the power and resources to let her trade poaching for more direct intervention.
Odette is a spirited heroine with good intentions and the kind of analytical mind that sometimes rushes to judgment. Jorgen is a stalwart hero with little to offer and much to prove. Unlike with many of Dickerson’s books, the attraction between the hero and heroine is almost immediate. Their connection is more of a mutually acknowledged chemistry than insta-love, and one which both quickly see as an unfortunate mismatch.
While this stand alone does address slightly darker subject material, fans of Dickerson’s Hagenheim series won’t find it a difficult transition from Young Adult to New Adult. The author’s style remains pleasant and consistent. The pacing starts out fairly low-key, but picks up at about 100 pages in. And I must say, the tidy and symmetrical conclusion was one of the more satisfying of any of her books I’ve yet read.
The 3rd person alternating perspective worked well, but I sometimes wished the POV was a little deeper. I would have liked to sense a stronger emotional connection with Jorgen—particularly concerning his grief over the death of his little sister, and his hatred for the poacher who killed his adoptive father. The hate aspect often felt like more of an afterthought than an internal conflict to be surmounted.
One thing this reader must highly applaud is the author’s portrayal of what is essentially medieval human trafficking--the oldest exploitation of women (and children) disguised as the oldest "profession." I'm SO glad Dickerson decided to go as realistically dark with it as she did and explore the guilt and obligation complex so many sex abuse sufferers experience. In this there was a (sadly) timeless and universally valuable empathy element. Yet, she didn't go so heavy as to pin it on one of the main characters--which I also appreciated.
All told, this is yet another quality and entertaining piece of Germanic storytelling from Dickerson.