Book Review: The Drowned Forest by Kristopher Reisz

[Editor’s Note: a version of this review is also on my GoodReads page. It is my hope to begin reviewing more books in this blog, as I review podcasts, in an attempt to bring attention to the things I think others should check out.]

The Drowned Forest

The Drowned Forest by Kristopher Reisz is a book that has stuck with me over the last few days. I highly enjoyed it and hope that many others will as well.

The story follows Jane, a teenage girl who is trying and failing to deal with the loss of her best friend, Holly. Jane is in the center of a very religious community and holds God in every aspect of her life. However, the faith that she so heavily relies on offers little comfort in light of the fact that Holly’s spirit remains trapped in the waters she drowned in.

I was following the story along willingly until I reached a scene that caused me to put the book down, ponder what the hell just happened, then immediately pick the book back up to see what would happen next. The story is quick-paced, spanning a week’s time, and as soon as the action kicks in it does not lag.

The characters are believable and feel real. The details of the world are engaging (damned if Reisz cannot convey the awful, sticky heat of an Alabama summer) and are woven into Jane’s thoughts. We are spared any spoon-fed explanations and are simply offered the world of The Drowned Forest as it is.

There folklore in this story is some of the best this side of the Mississippi. There are root workers, circles drawn to ward off spirits, and the power of mojo. Reisz brings a haunting, hungry force into Jane’s world through the history that surrounds the titular drowned forest and I am so sorry that people ditched on the incredible mythos he is laying down in this story.

The protagonist begins the story as a sheltered, heavily-religious teenager who is trapped in her grief over the loss of her friend Holly. The religious aspect of Jane’s life is intentionally suffocating. It reflects the way that, although perhaps Jane cannot yet see for herself, those around her see their own struggling or non-existent faith. But a protagonist is built to change, to alter their own perspective and see the world in a different way. Regardless of your own personal religious views (or lack thereof, that’s cool too), I hope that you give The Drowned Forest the chance it so richly deserves.

Bonus fact: As a role-playing nerd I can totally see this as a viable setting for a campaign.

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