Three weeks and the countdown to Wyrd & Wonder* 2022 continues! Wyrd & Wonder starts May 1, and I’m getting ready by posting some of my favorite Top 5s fantasy reads. This week, I’m sharing my Top 5 Forest Fantasy Reads.
*Not sure what Wyrd & Wonder is? Check out this post first.
The traditional fifth anniversary gift is wood, and so Wyrd and Wonder is all about forest fantasy this year. (Hence the tree wolf.) This list celebrates all things forest-y, which covers a lot of ground from woodland settings to forest creatures, from a focus on trees to important wooden artifacts. But I’ve chosen to stay away from the most obvious answers, LOTR (Old Man Willow, Treebeard and the Ents, Trollshaws, and Mirkwood just to name a few as trees and forests play multiple roles in Middle Earth) and HP (Whomping Willow and the Forbidden Forest). And so here are 5 of my fave forest fantasy reads.
Top 5 Forest Fantasy Reads
As mentioned in the last countdown post: Throughout this countdown series of Top 5 lists, I’m not going to duplicate titles. Each list will have 5 new titles on it. I’ll probably have some of the same authors, but not the same titles from the previous Top 5 list.
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
Part fairy tale, part psychological study, The Book of Lost Things is an engrossing and incredible read. Set in England at the outbreak of World War II, David loves books and stories. David eventually gets a room full of old books containing notes written by Jonathan Tulvey, who disappeared as a young boy. The books eventually begin whispering to David until David finds himself pulled into this world of books where dark, grim versions of classic fairy tale characters exist.
I loved how this book slowly, incrementally adds fantasy elements. Connolly does a brilliant job transitioning the real world to the fantasy world in a way that felt authentic and seamless. The prose and descriptions are amazing, albeit dark, but that added to the atmosphere. Like a roller-coaster ride inside a haunted house, this story kept me enthralled until the very last page.
A word of warning. Although the protagonist is a child, this is in no way a book for middle-grade readers. I wouldn’t even classify this as YA (as much as I dislike that term). This book is dark. No Disney-esque characters here. This is more along the lines of the Grimm Brothers’ versions of fairy tales—cruel and twisted.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Inspired by an idea by award-winning author Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself, A Monster Calls is about 13-year-old Conor whose mother is seriously ill. At seven minutes past midnight, Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. A monster that disguises itself as a yew tree.
But the yew-tree disguised monster isn’t the one Conor expected because he sees a monster every night in his nightmares, nightmares that started when his mother started leukemia treatment. The yew-tree monster in his backyard is different. It makes him a bargain. He will continue to visit Connor and tell him three tales. The fourth will be Connor’s to tell, and Conor will tell the monster his tale, or else the monster will eat him alive.
This is such a poignant and beautifully written story. Deeply imaginative, so poignant, and almost brutally honest. I really don’t have the words to do it justice. The illustrations by Jim Kay are fantastically wonderful. Just go read it.
Stolen Things by Stephen Parolini
The main character of Stolen Things is Raspberry Lynette Granby. If that name isn’t enough to make you want to read this book, I don’t know what else will. Okay, well, how about that The Bloggess recommended it? Surely that’s enough. No, okay then, well there’s a storybook forest. That is a most excellent reason to immediately pick up this book.
Raspberry Lynette Granby’s mother is long gone and her father has cancer. And so Raspberry knows why he’s moving them to her aunt’s house. An aunt she has never met. And so Raspberry escapes into books and then into the storybook forest at the bottom of the hill where magical adventures begin.
This is a story of family and how complicated that love can be. I found this book magical, heartbreaking, touching, and yet terrifying. I finished this book in one sitting as I was immediately sucked into Raspberry’s world and did not want to leave. Parolini perfectly captured this amazing 13-year-old in her realistic yet fantastical world.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Even though I’ve waited for over a decade for the third book of the Kingkiller Chronicles (the second book was released in 2011), I still have to include The Name of the Wind. This brilliantly written heroic fantasy is set over the course of three days where Kvothe, the hero, tells Chronicler, a traveling scribe that he saved, that telling his story will take three days (each book is one day).
Kvothe, going under the pseudonym Kote, is an innkeeper at the Waystone Inn. But he really is an unequaled sword fighter and magician rumored to have killed a king that earned him the title Kingkiller. Kvothe is also a musician. In the story, he flees into the nearby woods with nothing but his father’s lute and only leaves the forest after months when all the strings have finally broken. We learn Kvothe favors the trouper’s lute, a wooden instrument with seven strings, smaller than the larger court lute.
Another wood item featured in the Kingkiller Chronicles are the Tak game pieces, stones and capstones, which are often made of wood. Fun fact, Tak was adapted for the real world by game designer James Ernest with input from Rothfuss.
A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare
But wait, you might be thinking, A Midsummer’s Night Dream is a play, not a fantasy book. Ah, yes, it is a play but it is a fantasy play. A fantasy play that is set primarily in a forest inhabited by fairies, a sprite, and a changing. It doesn’t get more fantasy than that. In the play, everyone runs off to the forest. And Shakespeare references 24 different kinds of plants and flowers. It doesn’t get much more nature-y than that. Plus, it’s Shakespeare, who invented 1700 words and remains a major influence of most writers. So there’s that.
Midsummer’s Night might be my favorite fave of all of Shakespeare’s plays. Although that’s a tough one because I also love Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night too. But Midsummer’s Night has the Queen and King of fairies and Puck, one of the best, mischievous characters ever written. On top of the ample wordplay, high-spirited hijinks, and brilliant comedy, the play’s themes include the challenge of gender roles/feminism, forms of love, loss of individual identity, and ambiguous sexuality—all themes that, over 400 years later, are still terribly relevant.
All of this is to say that Shakespeare did it all, including fantasy. A fantasy is a magical forest.
Forest Fantasy Reads on my Wish List TBR
As I was going through all the books I’ve read and trying to remember which ones involved forests or trees or something relevant, I also found several on my TBR Wish List. (i.e., these are not yet sitting on my TBR bookcase).
- Green Rider by Kristen Britain is set in the Green Cloak forest, which is illustrated on the cover
- The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle lives in an enchanted forest, because where else would a unicorn live?
- Graceling by Kristen Cashore where the protagonists hide in a forest and traverse a mountain pass.
- The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid is set in a forest village
What forest-y fantasy books do you recommend? Share your faves in the comments.
A couple of notes on this post: