Seven Endless Forests is advertised as a retelling of the King Arthur legend. After the deaths of her mother and lover, Torvi’s sister Morgunn is kidnapped by a wolf-priest called Uther. Torvi unites with a druid and a group called the Butcher Bards in order to track down her sister and rescue her, as well as seeking out a mystical sword buried within a tree. Whoever pulls the sword will inherit the jarldom.
This is less a retelling of the Arthur legend, and more inspired by. The main links come through some of the names (Morgunn, Uther) and the idea of a sword buried in part of nature (in this instance, a tree instead of a stone). To a point, it works, but don’t pick this up expecting an actual Arthurian retelling. (And one place is randomly referred to as Avalon at points)
This had the potential to be a really good book. There are some lovely ideas wrapped up in here, and the way the relationships are established is lovely to read, with the sort of closeness and affection among all the characters that sometimes isn’t touched upon in books. The problem is it doesn’t feel like we’re given enough time with the characters to actually get to know them. We’re told a lot about them, but we’re not really shown much. And for the most part, it feels like a lot was skimmed over when it came to the characters. One of the Bards has a sad past, but it’s almost forced out of him in such a way and told in so few lines it felt uncomfortable.
There’s a piece of advice often told to fantasy writers; know everything about your world, but don’t let the reader know everything about your world. Worldbuilding, when done well, can completely and utterly transport you into the novel. Unfortunately, in Seven Endless Forests there was way too much. Every single location, every single mention of a random place, or thing, or potion or whatever had a legend behind it. It got really tedious, with a character butting in on every page to say “Oh, there’s a story…” and another one going, “Yes, I know that one…” And proceeding to tell it. Even if it’s apparently a common story all the characters know?
These tales felt too distracting, taking the reader away from the actual plot. And the plot was hidden among a lot of faff. It felt like playing a video game, maybe Skyrim, and spending so long on sidequests you forget what’s part of the main storyline and what isn’t.
The other problem with the book, something which made it very difficult to slog through, was the formatting. I’m relatively new to ARCs in general, and I’m assuming these issues will be cleared up prior to publication, but because of the formatting it was hard to see which errors might lie with formatting, or editing, neither of which would really be the author’s fault. Still, I had to go back a fair few times to check who was speaking or what was happening.
The writer has clear talent, but the story felt a little all over the place and, at times, hard to follow. There were too many characters coming in and out, and some parts felt rushed to get to the next point, with the story veering off into this or that legend and losing the main thread at others.
I would definitely give Tucholke another chance, but in this instance, Seven Endless Forests just wasn’t for me.
Thank you to publishers Simon & Schuster for providing this arc via NetGalley.