THE PHANTOM FOREST by Liz Kerin


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We're not in Khronasa anymore

★★★★✩

Kerin's debut novel was full of action and nebulous adventure. The author easily won me over with her world building, her plot heavily influenced by religious mythology, her intriguing and broken characters, and everything else that exploded from this book and made me a fan. Between learning more about the well-developed characters and never knowing what would happen next, I was on the edge of my seat for this journey from beginning to end. The path proved treacherous and I enjoyed every spine-tingling minute of it!


This story centers around (and is told mostly by) three principle characters:
Seycia - she's a clever, courageous, fearless, and extremely headstrong. Alone during her formative years, after witnessing her parents death in her war-torn country, she's learned to survive and protect her little brother. Her love for her sibling is what really drew me to her, because big sisters love like no other. No one can touch, talk, or even think about our little ones. She's willing to do anything for him and ends up making the biggest sacrifice of all.

Haben - once a human who lived centuries ago, now a demon slave to the ruler of the Underworld. He has been turned into the Savage, a demon who comes to Earth twice a year to eat human sacrifices. He hates what he has become but feels his punishment matches his crime. You'll spend much of the book trying to figure out what he did to deserve this. Once Seycia finds herself in the Underworld, Haben does everything he can to help her survive. He becomes friend (and maybe more?), educator, and support when Seycia needs it most. FYI to the author... Haben IS this story and I need more of this man ASAP!!

Miko - Seycia's younger brother who ends up being the the Light for the people of his land. He's twelve and finds that his age doesn't diminish his strength or the fortitude required to do something about what is happening to his people. While he mourns his sister, he finds purpose and joins others in toppling the autocracy that his dominated his people for years. He's brave and intelligent, but still a bit naive and childish. His story arc intrigues me almost as much as Haben's does.


Other characters play a decidedly major role although they had minor parts:
General Simeon - he was the brutal ruler of Khronasa, with no love for its people or its traditions. He had an intense need to wipe out Seycia and her brother for wrongs done to him and lacked compunction for any of the evil he perpetrated. He was answerable and fearful of Emperor Caius, who had forced the people into subservience.

Dhov - ruler of the Underworld. He doled out pain and punishment on a whim. He was creepy, scary, and I would never want to meet him. He was right there, at every turn, during Haben and Seycia's mission to the Great Forest. He had spies everywhere and nowhere was safe from his wrath.


There were a ton of other characters we come to know. Some to love and some to hate along with everyone else. With her first novel, Kerin has established herself as a must-read author for the genre. She gave me everything I crave in a YA story and left me hungry for more. Now, at the end of this chapter of the tale, I'm tense and anxious to find out where this story will lead me next. I NEED a book two PRONTO!!

Synopsis
Every tree in the sacred Forest of Laida houses a soul. Though each of those souls will return to the mortal world for many future lives, not all of them deserve to.

Seycia's father told her this story as a child -- a story of the most holy place in the Underworld, The Forest of Laida, where all souls go to rest before embarking on a new life. But Seycia's father is dead now, and his killer has put a target on her back.

After being chosen for her village's human sacrifice ritual, Seycia is transported to the Underworld and must join forces with Haben, the demon to whom she was sacrificed, to protect the family she left behind from beyond the grave. In this story of love, survival, and what it means to be human, Seycia and Haben discover that the Underworld is riddled with secrets that can only be unlocked through complete trust and devotion, not only to their mission, but also to one another.

SPOILER-FREE CONTENT WARNINGS
This book is recommended for readers 13+
Includes: Ritual human sacrifice, Suicidal ideation, Metaphors about disordered eating, Brief threat of sexual violence, Cannibalism, Child abduction, Genocide, Dead parents, and Gun violence

About the Author
Liz Kerin is an author, screenwriter, and playwright currently living in sunny southern California. The Phantom Forest is her debut novel and was shortlisted for the 2016 Launchpad Manuscript Competition. A graduate of the Department of Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Liz is also developing a number of Film/TV projects, adapting a YA series to screen, and workshopping her award-winning play, "Stop-Motion." She is represented by Verve for both books and Film/TV.

She is also the proud co-parent of two unruly small dogs, both of whom you can meet if you follow along on social media.

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