The Drowned Woods

The Drowned Woods
Age Range
Release Date
August 16, 2022
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A magical, ethereal fantasy from IndieBound bestselling author Emily Lloyd-Jones.

Once upon a time, the kingdoms of Wales were rife with magic and conflict, and eighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is well-acquainted with both. She is the last living water diviner and has spent years running from the prince who bound her into his service. Under the prince’s orders, she located the wells of his enemies, and he poisoned them without her knowledge, causing hundreds of deaths. After discovering what he had done, Mer went to great lengths to disappear from his reach. Then Mer’s old handler returns with a proposition: use her powers to bring down the very prince that abused them both.

The best way to do that is to destroy the magical well that keeps the prince’s lands safe. With a motley crew of allies, including a fae-cursed young man, the lady of thieves, and a corgi that may or may not be a spy, Mer may finally be able to steal precious freedom and peace for herself. After all, a person with a knife is one thing…but a person with a cause can topple kingdoms.

The Drowned Woods—set in the same world as The Bone Houses but with a whole new, unforgettable cast of characters—is part heist novel, part dark fairy tale.

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enthralling YA fantasy heist
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THE DROWNED WOODS is an enthralling YA fantasy heist read. Mererid (Mer) has a power over water, and it was for this reason that the Prince claimed her and forced her into servitude at a young age. Seeing the cruelty her gift wrought, Mer escaped and has been on the run - until the former Spymaster, who practically raised her, comes calling with a job for them both. Although initially reluctant to help, Mer learns that the task is to find the well that is the source of the Prince's powers, and the desire to stop his cruelty is a powerful motivator.

As they plan their travel to the well, they find Fane, a man with gifted magic of death, his corgi Trefor, the type of dog rumored to be an otherfolk spy, and Ifanna, a master thief and Mer's ex, to join their unlikely group along with a scholar and a nobleman's cousin. With magical traps and dangerous paths, their journey will be anything but simple.

What I loved: There is so much to love about an unlikely group of characters coming together for a heist, and I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the way their relationships change through the telling. There were a few big twists at the end that I did not see coming, and they brought everything together so well - it was one surprise after another, and I love when a story can shock me like that.

The book handles some thought-provoking themes around corrupt political power, morality of one vs the many (how many lives should be traded for the greater good?), the nature of magic, the things we think we want and how these can change, the value of life, sacrifice, and responsibility for a role that holds a small part of the larger picture. Fane and Mer had their lives irrevocably changed when they were only children. The things they understand about the world and their wants/dreams have been evolving, though their past decisions will never completely let them go. Both Mer and Fane and continuing to grow and learn from the consequences of these, and their arcs are really fascinating, as they work together and as the reader begins to learn more about them.

A kingdom at war is a dangerous one, and the political power held by the Prince is often taken by cruelty and with force. Many of the characters in the heist team have faced this and been irrevocably changed by it. As a result, there are decision points where life is weighed and the balance left up for debate. A theme that reappears is around how much one particular life is worth in comparison to the many, and who would/should make that decision. It is kind of along those thought experiments with the runaway train and the track switch (whether you allow it go down a path where it takes one person or many people and then variants on who those people are).

Mer and Fane were both compelling characters. Life has dealt them a difficult hand, and I appreciate who they are and how they came to be where they are. They are damaged but not broken, and it's impossible to want anything but the best for them. Trefor, the corgi, really stole the show in the scenes where he appeared. Legend has it that corgis are spies for the otherfolk, and this mystery gives him an air of intrigue that he carries through the story. Ifanna was another interesting character with a strong personality, and I would love to read her whole story - she is the daughter of those who run the guild of thieves, and she is a master in her own right. She brings a touch of humor to the story and is a lot of fun to get to know.

The book also includes interludes that read like a fairytale about the characters we get to meet, and these were really really fascinating and brought a touch of the other to the story. They were perfectly timed and presented another perspective to the story at its surface.

Final verdict: THE DROWNED WOODS is an enthralling and highly enjoyable YA fantasy heist read. Highly recommend picking this up if you enjoyed THE GILDED WOLVES, BLOODLEAF, and THE PRISON HEALER.
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