In Gastreich’s (High Maga, 2014, etc.) fantasy/adventure novel, a young girl named Eolyn escapes into the enchanted South Woods as her family and village are destroyed by King’s Riders searching for subversive magic.
In a patriarchal realm where male magic users are educated and embraced and female magic users are vilified and burned alive, the kingdom of Moisehén believes that after years of systematic tyranny, it has finally vanquished the last maga from the world. But when Eolyn finds the house of an old witch hidden deep in the forest—a powerful maga known as Ghemena who is believed to be dead—she is not only taught the ways of magic, but learns that she is the last hope to bring the traditional balance between maga (female) and mage (male) magic back to Moisehén and bring peace and equality back to the people. Also crucial to the story is Eolyn’s relationship with a boy who calls himself Achim—a mysterious young man with magical ability who lives in a “forest of stone” and whom she met in the South Woods and secretly befriended. As the two mature into adults, Eolyn vows to someday leave the safety of the forest and find her friend. What she doesn’t realize is that she may be shocked by his identity. As the story progresses and Eolyn reaches adulthood, much of the narrative’s power is diminished. The dreamlike, fairy-tale ambiance is all but forgotten as the focus turns to immersive political machinations and grand-scale battles. While the latter part of the novel flags a bit due to a jarring shift in tone and a rebellion that seems rushed and contrived, the story’s strong heroine and weighty themes (namely sexism) make up for the missteps.
An inconsistent but utterly readable first installment of a projected fantasy trilogy.