A young, orphaned shapeshifter in a world that fears magic must risk everything if she hopes to save her only friend in Elayne Audrey Becker's Forestborn, first in a new fantasy series with a timeless feel.
TO BE BORN OF THE FOREST IS A GIFT AND A CURSE.
Rora is a shifter, as magical as all those born in the wilderness—and as feared. She uses her abilities to spy for the king, traveling under different guises and listening for signs of trouble.
When a magical illness surfaces across the kingdom, Rora uncovers a devastating truth: Finley, the young prince and her best friend, has caught it, too. His only hope is stardust, the rarest of magical elements, found deep in the wilderness where Rora grew up—and to which she swore never to return.
But for her only friend, Rora will face her past and brave the dark, magical wood, journeying with her brother and the obstinate, older prince who insists on coming. Together, they must survive sentient forests and creatures unknown, battling an ever-changing landscape while escaping human pursuers who want them dead. With illness gripping the kingdom and war on the horizon, Finley’s is not the only life that hangs in the balance.
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A Tolkienesque fantasy realm populated with characters of varying skin tones mixes uneasily with modern realpolitik and trauma in this debut. Olive-skinned, wilderness-born shape-shifter and royal spy Rora can become a goshawk, a mouse, or a lynx, or wear another person's face. But she is shunned by her neighbors for her powers and her part in an ominous Prediction. When a carefree prince, her blond, queer best friend, contracts a mysterious and virulent plague, the king assigns Rora and the standoffish elder prince to fetch a powerful miracle cure in the perilous magic-laced land of her birth and investigate an authoritarian neighbor kingdom's threats of war. Dogged by plague and her own difficult memories, Rora, and her selfless brother Helos, must escort Prince Weslyn across the land that they once desperately fled. But when they uncover a disturbing secret, Rora's shame may stymie her ability to save all she holds dear. Becker's series opener gives its ambitious subject matter an archetypal handling that centers graphic depictions of torture as a mounting pile of threats swings Rora through video game style landscapes described in a breathless first-person narration. Ages 13 up.
I loved all the characters and cried so hard.