She could not slay her own fears. But as for the men who’d made her afraid – they could bleed.
The Drowned Woods is another book that I’ve fallen completely in love with due to it hitting so many of my niche interests. A water diviner girl (the last of her kind), a fae-cursed boy, a chaotic-good heir to a thieves guild, and a corgi who may or may not be a spy. Along with three other characters, they’re on a quest to destroy a magical well that keeps the prince’s lands safe. It’s a story about folklores and magic and heists. It’s wonderful.
First love: the setting. This book explores more of the world that was introduced in The Bone Houses. The majority of this book takes place in a city that is full of both hustle and bustle and iron to ward off magic, and a cave system which is where I truly fell in love with the author’s descriptions and her imagination in general. The Welsh influences and folklore were the perfect choice for a horror-influenced novel. I’ve grown up near Wales and heard about all the ghost hauntings and supernatural sightings and other assorted spooky stuff. I will say that there was a suspicious lack of woods for the majority of this book. However, this was balanced out by an acceptable amount of drowning.
Second love: the folklore. This book truly showcases how magical and dark Welsh folklore can be, and it’s disappointing to see so many reviewers who don’t appreciate that and describe the Welsh language as a keyboard slam or a fictional language. I’ve had a fixation with local folk tales for my entire life and this book appealed to that niche interest. I loved reading about tales that are already so close to my heart and I love that it’s getting well-done representation. This book retells the Welsh myth of Cantre’r Gwaelod, a sunken kingdom that supposedly once stood where Cardigan Bay now exists, affectionately referred to as ‘Welsh Atlantis’ by the author. The tale has many variations, but at the centre of several is a young woman who is a keeper of a magical well. Many of the myths say that it was her fault that the kingdom was sunk. This book shows what the story would be like if it was told from her perspective.
Third love: the epilogue. Also the final scene from the final chapter. These two moments in the book contain references to The Bone Houses and I was audibly squealing when I caught on to what was happening. I don’t think I can elaborate on either moment without giving a spoiler to either book, but the links between the books made me appreciate the characters’ stories and their struggles so much more. It was a beautiful thing to read.
Fourth love: Mer, our leading lady and the narrator for the bulk of the book. She is a water diviner who was stolen from her family for her powers and forced into working for the prince. She feels as if she’s never had control over her life and her only choice was to run away over and over again, and I felt that her emotional growth was realistically written. I am a sucker for anyone with water powers, especially someone who uses the water inside someone else’s body to their advantage. I did have a fear that she would be an overpowered character due to the extent of her magic abilities, but there were consequences of her using her power – especially in the finale – and it just made me appreciate the author further. She describes herself as someone who is saved by stubbornness rather than bravery, and I’ve never related to a character more. She is also bisexual and her attraction to both genders is explored on the page, and I also love how subtly and naturally it’s introduced.
The thing that stopped me from rating this book higher was the other characters. I did prefer the main characters of The Bone Houses, I think because there were only two for most of the book so they didn’t have to compete for time on the page. They had two clear, distinct, contrasting personalities while the larger cast of The Drowned Woods blended together for me, and one of the characters did not feel significant to the plot at all, proven by how they were killed the second we reached conflict and it held no consequence for the storyline. Most of the characters were only there for the heist and their storylines revolved around it so there wasn’t much room for character development or a satisfying arc that did not focus on becoming rich or getting revenge, and I felt that the amount of space they took up on page could’ve been used to delve deeper into Fane’s curse or the Otherfolk (or more corgi content). However, the large cast did allow for some exciting reveals later in the plot which showed how their paths have crossed in the past without some of them knowing.
This was one of my most anticipated books of the year and I do not have the words to express how pleased I am that it both lived up to and exceeded my expectations. Emily Lloyd-Jones has earned her place on my list of favourite authors and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5 stars)