Fantastic Five: forest fantasies

It’s Sunday, which means it’s time to share our Fantastic Fives! This week we’re exploring this year’s Wyrd and Wonder theme of forest fantasy – but what does that even mean?

Ideally, forest fantasy is set in the woods, but nobody likes gatekeepers so fantasies featuring iconic forest locations or arboreal themes do just as well. That means loads of cross-over with books about shapeshifters and the Fae, along with lots of classic fantasy and a surprising number of childhood favourites.

But you know I love to cheat, so frankly anything goes if you make a good enough case for it. After all, we’re celebrating forest fantasy to mark Wyrd and Wonder’s fifth anniversary – but a fifth anniversary is symbolised by wood (not woodland), so you might just as aptly choose to celebrate ships (unless they’re made of bone, sorry RJ Barker), carpentry or staff-fighting.

But I digress. And I’ll keep my selection straightforwardly woody today. I mentioned The Jasmine Throne and You Let Me In – both excellent forest fantasies – last week; but there’s plenty more on my shelves!

One of my favourite forest fantasies of recent years is Juliet McKenna’s Green Man series. Dryad’s son Dan is a carpenter by trade, and chosen by the mythical Green Man to solve supernatural problems. Half the books are set in English woodland; the other half feature allies or antagonists of a woody nature; and all foreground Dan’s woodworking trade. Fun, fast reads that serve up folklore spiced with an occasional side of horror.

Book cover: The Green Man's Heir - Juliet McKenna (a stylised leonine or ursine face made of leaves, cast in gold or bronze)
Book cover: Wintersong - S Jae-Jones (a white rose in a glass ball)

S Jae-Jones wrote a glorious mash-up of Labyrinth and Rossetti’s Goblin Market: Wintersong is a faerie fantasy that begins with an encounter in the woods and ends in an Underground populated by particularly twiggy faeries. For all this is based on very familiar material, it’s a fresh retelling that develops it with gusto – what if you said yes to the Goblin King – to deliver a lush Gothic romance.

You (probably) can’t go wrong if wood is in the actual name: Emily Tesh’s debut novella Silver In The Wood mixes folklore and romance to delightful effect. When the wild man of the wood offers the new landowner shelter (much to the disgust of the dryads), ancient forces awaken to threaten his peace once again.

Book cover: Silver in the Wood - Emily Tesh (a bearded man's face depicted in organic leafy fashion)
Book cover: Wychwood - George Mann (a forest glimpsed through a corvid's silhouette)

Sticking with ‘the clue is in the name’ we have Wychwood, first of George Mann’s contemporary fantasy thrillers. A rural murder mystery with macabre supernatural trappings, delivering both creepy folklore and bodies in the woods. The sequel is less foresty and just as compulsive reading.

I’m claiming Jen Williams’s post-apocalyptic banger The Ninth Rain as an unusual forest fantasy: both for the heroes’ adventures into the Wild – a mutant forest that conceals horrifying parasite spirits – and for the central role of Ygseril, holy tree of Ebora. Creative licence? Maybe, but this is way less iffy than say Dominion of the Fallen, which has a surprising number of invasive trees for an undeniably urban fantasy.

Book cover: The Ninth Rain - Jen Williams (a blue-grey eagle against a silver background)

What forest fantasies do my Wyrd and Wonder co-hosts recommend? Check out the Fantastic Fives from the rest of the team: A Dance With Books | Dear Geek Place | The Book Nook | Jorie Loves A Story

Want to join us in sharing your own fantastic fives? We’d love to see them – check out our weekly topics and share your links in the master schedule. We’ll be sharing our Fantastic Fives each Sunday through May, but you’re welcome to post any day (and tackle the prompts in any order, because that’s the sort of super-relaxed party we like to run).

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