‘The Drowned Woods’ is part heist novel, part an exploration of Welsh mythology, and fully an immersive and entertaining read. Set in the same world as Lloyd-Jones’ previous novel ‘The Bone Houses‘, it draws on the strengths of the previous novel and adds to them, producing a more layered book. No knowledge of the previous novel is required to read and enjoy this, but the epilogue hits hard to those with knowledge of its predecessor.
Eighteen year old Mer is the last living Water Diviner. Having escaped a life of servitude under the Prince, where she was forced to murder hundreds on his command, she’s living hidden in a small village – until her old handler returns with a proposition. He wants to end the prince’s power once and for all. Together with a crew of hesitant allies including a man cursed by the Fae, the lady of thieves, and a corgi, they set off to track down a magical well – the source of the kingdom’s riches. But it’s not easy to topple the most powerful person in the land – and surrounded by ulterior motives, it’s unclear who Mer can trust.
Mer makes a solid and relatable protagonist. Like ‘The Bone Houses’, ‘The Drowned Woods’ chooses to use established YA tropes rather than breaking the mould – meaning that Mer is a powerful Chosen One who has been wronged by those in power and is out for revenge. She’s strong, creative, but with serious trust issues and a habit of lashing out before thinking. She has elements of Vin from ‘Mistborn‘ and Lola from the ‘Shadow Game‘ trilogy, and fans of strong female characters in general will appreciate her.
The supporting cast is excellent, with the relationships between characters expertly written. Fane, a man cursed by the Fae to cause the death of seven others, is the highlight – he’s a kindhearted man with a keen eye for justice, and always accompanied by his faithful corgi. He complements Mer perfectly – where she rushes into things, he stops to ponder; where she starts with violence, this is always his last resort. Despite this, they develop a deep understanding – they’re both pure of heart in a group where sincerity is a forgotten concept.
Ifanna, Mer’s ex-girlfriend and the heir to a family of thieves, is another highlight. A girl with a point to prove, she’s showy and extravagant and an exceptional thief – but she’s made mistakes, and doesn’t always come at things with the right perspective. Her character arc is very strong, and the dynamic between her, Mer, and Fane is fascinating to observe.
Mer is never referred to on-page as bisexual or pansexual, but her attraction to both men and women is well-written without fuss or over-emphasis. Its nice seeing more YA where this is simply fact and doesn’t have to be a plot point.
The plot is the main area where this book is stronger than ‘The Bone Houses’. It’s tauter, faster-paced, avoids exposition, and has more unpredictable twists and turns. Lloyd-Jones still follows well-trodden paths in many of her narrative choices, but she also takes a few risks and they pay off in a more entertaining novel. The Welsh mythology is also allowed to play a slightly stronger role with more explicit references to origins of magic and the role of the Fae.
Overall, this is an excellent YA fantasy with solid characters and well-written character relationships, an entertaining and well-paced plot, and an excellent atmosphere. A recommended read.
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback: 16th August 2022