The Forest Queen

Written by Betsy Cornwell
Review by J. Lynn Else

In this gender-bending Robin Hood reimagining, 16-year-old Silvie Loughsley has lived under her brother’s cruelty for too long. Now that John’s the sheriff and she’s to be married off to a noble she barely knows, Silvie fears for her future. When she thwarts the attempted suicide of a woman named Little Jane, Silvie decides to help Jane by following the advice of her oldest friend, Bird: run away to freedom in the woods. When Jane gets sick, Bird and Silvie rescue the healer Mae Tuck from jail, but not before leaving a message for her brother. News about “the Forest Queen” travels and others seek to join her community. Then, as John’s depravity increases, Silvie and followers decide to start giving the poor back what’s rightfully theirs.

This book suffers from many issues, including a lack of fluidity, poor or no transitions, flat characters, simplistic writing, and no plot direction. There’s little world building, and the time period isn’t stated. I can’t help but wonder if the author is counting on readers overlaying their own Robin Hood familiarity onto her story. Themes of suicide, rape, abortion, and birth control are mentioned, but poorly discussed. Then, oddly, Silvie curls up night after night against her love interest as they fall asleep together. Considering the previously mentioned themes, this is an off-putting character choice.

Despite being a Robin Hood retelling, Silvie isn’t accurate with a bow, robbing from rich carriages is only mentioned once after the fact, and villagers have no problem finding her hiding place. Maybe Cornwell hoped to avoid her story feeling like a rehash of previous material, but conversely it lacks innovation and any sort of thematic profundity. I wanted to love this book, but for a book encouraging girls to be their own hero, it falls short on so many levels.