Raised by strict, devout people after soul eaters attacked her village, sparing only the children, Alys grows up longing for the freedom of the fforest while hiding a gift that would mark her as a witch.
Rating: ★★★☆☆ – liked it
Genre: young adult fiction, fantasy, dark fairy tale
Pros: mostly well written, nice twist on genre expectation, interesting mythos, witchy midwifery, interesting characters, interesting villains
Cons: rushed ending, dumb romance, wait too long for diversity
This was a good, solid 3 star book. I liked it and enjoyed reading it, but I probably wouldn’t reread it. Not because it isn’t good, but because it just isn’t such an in-depth story that it benefits from a second reading. If you are looking for an easy read with an interesting mythos, this is a good pick.
When I first picked this book up, based solely on the title, I expected it to have some sort of action (e.g. hunting). This was definitely not the case, but I didn’t find myself disappointed on that front.
One of the more unexpected aspects for me was how long we spend with the main character as a child. In most YA novels, if you see the protagonist as a child it’s for a chapter or two and then the majority of the book has the protag as a teen. In TBiaA I believe full half of the novel takes place before Alys reaches her teen years. Luckily the narration isn’t childish so it’s still enjoyable to read. (Or as enjoyable as reading about a kid in a terrible situation can be, that is.)
One of my favorite aspects of the writing was the way that when Alys is a child, the narration is just vague enough that you know what’s going on, but you might not realize everything. Then when she is older the narration of the same things is specific enough that you realize aspects of it you hadn’t before. It helps you to understand things at the same pace as Alys, and keeps you in the characters head.
There is some split-POV in this book, with a few chapters from the perspective of a set of twins, and in fact the book starts from their perspective, but the majority is Alys’ POV. Usually I don’t like when books change point-of-view, but in this case I quite enjoyed it. In fact, I often found myself identifying more with the twins than the actual protagonist.
I did deeply enjoy the Welsh influence all over the book. I wondered when I saw the “ff” spelling of “forest” and then the protag’s name “Alys” and after only a few chapters I was convinced that this was a fictional world influenced by Wales which really enhanced my experience of the book. I was able to figure out all the pronunciations of the names based on my knowledge of Welsh language, and I got to hear all their voices in my head in Welsh accents, so it was quite nice.
If you are like me, you will spend at least half the book wondering if you’ll ever see any kind of diversity. The saving here is that the main character actually addresses that. She remarks that the people from outside her village are more diverse and wonders if it bothers the people in the village. Then later we do get to spend some time away from the all-white village and there is more diversity then. Including a nice little instance of the main character learning there are people who do not conform to a gender binary. I wish the diversity hadn’t come so late in the book, but having it at all in a fantasy novel was a pleasant surprise.
I will say, I wish there hadn’t been a romance. Or if there had to be, I wish it had been less intense and more slow-burning. Luckily, the romance didn’t crop up until almost the end of the book, so I didn’t have to deal with it long. I recognize the importance of Cian’s character as a confidant for Alys, but I wish Peternelle hadn’t decided to make him a love-interest… The only reason I can think of for adding a romance towards the end of the novel would be to give Alys something to hold on to and fight for. As it is, romance is completely unnecessary for that! She would have been just as motivated by family and community and acceptance, if not more-so. There was no reason at all to have Pawl and Beti conveniently have found another orphan for Alys to pair off with! (Twilight, anyone? Ugh.)
The ending also bothered me. Specifically the “final battle” (not actually a battle, but I can’t think what else to call it). It felt very rushed and sort of unfinished. Like the author hadn’t quite figured out how to end it and had to hurry to meet a deadline. Or perhaps like too many moments had been cut out of the ending scenes… Because it isn’t exactly the ending, but the way it ended, that was disappointing. It wasn’t so disappointing that it ruined the whole novel for me, but I did find myself reading the ending twice convinced I had missed something. It just didn’t seem fleshed-out enough.
I know this review sounds a bit negative for a book I claim to like. The main problem here is that the things I would most like to praise would involve too many spoilers! I don’t want to risk taking away from anyone’s enjoyment of the book, so I’ve had to leave those things out.