The StarThorn Tree – Book 1
When crippled Durrik makes a strange prophecy regarding Estelliana’s dying young Count, he and his friend Pedrin go on the run from the evil Regent’s soldiers, while their parents and most of the village are imprisoned to pre-empt a rebellion.
Durrik’s prophecy involves six people and a deadline of “when the last petals fall from the StarThorn tree”, so when he and Pedrin discover the count’s sister and her maid hiding in the forest, and their team is joined by a strange old man and a dirty little thief girl, they begin to believe they are destined to save the Count and overthrow the evil Regent.
But the prophecy is vague, and if their assumptions are wrong, they will all risk their lives for nothing. Their journey together to seek a cure from the wise Erlrune of Evenlinn creates a strong bond of friendship, loyalty, and love, and they are each faced with difficult decisions and tests of their courage.
Twelve-year-old Pedrin is very mature for his age and supports his family as a goatherd. He is brave, having chased off a “hobhenkie” that threatened his goats.
Durrik is Pedrin’s best friend and it is his prophecy that sparks off the events that send the two friends on the run and into adventure.
Briony is a young castle maid who is introduced in a way that allows the reader to develop deep empathy for this wonderfully complex character. I thought many of Briony’s scenes were the best in the book and she is certainly my favourite character. You will never look at spiders in quite the same way again, as Briony’s affiliation with and deep understanding of spiders is truly eye-opening and convincing.
Lisandre is the count’s sister who has run away rather than endure being sent to boarding school. Initially she is snobbish and tries to treat the others as her servants, but she goes through a great deal of character growth as her experience is harder than the others having come from such luxury and being unused to fending for herself, or even being cold and hungry.
Forsyth is known for using dialect spellings for dialogue in some of her earlier books, giving her characters Scottish-sounding accents. Although I found it a little distracting to start off with in this book, I did get used to it very quickly. Sometimes, though, I found the story too exciting to stop and form an accent in my mind when the characters spoke and I mentally translated some of the words into ordinary English to keep the pace from slowing down. The dialect has been dropped in the second and third books in the series, which makes these fast paced and very easy reading.
The characters enter the forest terrified of encountering hobhenkies (creatures similar to trolls) and gibgoblins, which are sadistic talking reptiles whose weapon of choice is a whip.
The StarThorn Tree is an engaging and multi-layered read that will be enjoyed by adults as much as children. Forsyth doesn’t spare her characters the pain and hardship of their task, and The StarThorn Tree is quite dark in places. The characters are memorable and have great depth, their perspectives shifting naturally through their experiences. There is plenty of action and fantasy adventure as the five children and the old man battle the gibgoblins, hobhenkies, and loralei.
The Wildkin’s Curse – Book 2
A difficulty with some sequels is that the protagonist has completed their growth arc in the first book, leaving little left to explore character-wise. Trilogies and series solve this issue by spreading the growth arc over multiple books. In Wildkin’s Curse Kate Forsyth has avoided this problem by moving the story on a generation and allowing new protagonists to continue the story of the tyrannical Starkin rulers, maligned Wildkin, and the Hearthkin people caught between the two groups.
As a perfect segue between the two books, we get to spend a few chapters visiting with Briony, my favourite character in StarThorn Tree, who is now the new Erlrune of Evenlinn. Forsyth completes Briony’s story arc with new information about her birth and family, which was believed unknowable in StarThorn Tree. Briony has two nieces, Lilianna, who becomes one of three protagonists on the quest to rescue her cousin, Rozalina, held captive by the Starkin. Joining her are Pedrin and Lisandre’s son, Zedrin, and Durrick and Mags’s son, Merrick.
Once again Forsyth’s compelling characters kept me turning the pages to find out what was going to happen to them next. Each of the three has flaws that endanger their own lives or those they love, but corresponding strengths that win the admiration of the other characters and the reader. Zed is a skilled swordsman but his fearlessness borders on recklessness and arrogance. Merry is astute and has unrealised magical abilities, but he is weak and fearful after many childhood illnesses and injuries, and lacks confidence. Lili is fierce and brave and a deadly accurate archer. She also has a great deal of magical power, but her focus and determination, prejudices, and sense of duty leave her dangerously blinkered.
Cryptic prophesies again add to the mystery and anticipation of the story, which comes to a satisfying conclusion.
Warning: Contains some descriptions of torture and cruelty
The Starkin Crown – Book 3
Like Wildkin’s Curse, Starkin Crown skips forward a generation and tells the story of Merry and Lilianna’s son, Peregrine (known as “Robin”), and his quest to find the lost Spear of Thunder. Following on from Wildkin’s Curse, Merry is now King of Ziva and Lilianna his queen, but they’ve been in exile for twenty-five years due to Vernisha’s seizure of the crown and ruthless tyranny backed by a powerful army. Rozalina is now Erlqueen of Stormlinn and Zed her husband, however her curse of her stepmother has rebounded on her and she has no heir, which makes Peregrine next in line to the Stormlinn throne as well. It is clear he is the third and last mentioned in Durrick’s prophecy and, if he can succeed in his quest, will be “true king of all” – Wildkin, Hearthkin, and Starkin.
In this book we get to spend just a short time with old friends Lili, Merry, Rozalina, and Zed before a young Starkin noblewoman, Grizelda, arrives seeking refuge and bringing warning that Vernisha is mobilising to attack Stormlinn Castle in mid-winter on the sacred night of Yule. Peregrine, his squire, Jack, Grizelda, and numerous bodyguards flee the castle for the safety of the Erlrune’s fortress.
But the Starkin soldiers pick up their trail and Peregrine, Jack, and Grizelda are soon alone with only the owl Stiga to guide them. Stiga has made her own prophecy and when Peregrine discovers a clue to the location of the Spear of Thunder he decides to change direction and begin his quest. Soon it becomes a race against time when his parents, aunt, and uncle are captured by Vernisha’s soldiers and face execution. Not only must Peregrine find the spear of the Storm King but also gather an army of his own. Luckily he is about to make some powerful allies.
Once again, strong well-rounded characters make this another exciting page-turner, while the several possible meanings of the prophecies amp up the intrigue and anticipation.
Warning: gruesome descriptions of punishments and torture.
These reviews have also run on my other website, HearWriteNow.com
Elle Carter Neal is the author of the middle-grade chapter book The Convoluted Key, picture book I Own All the Blue, and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, holding childhood slumber-party audiences entranced until the early hours of the morning. Elle decided to be an author the day she discovered that real people wrote books and that writing books was a real job.