Forest of Souls

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
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Relentless violence bludgeons promising tale of friendship.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Draws from Asian mythology in building its world, and incorporates concepts like political alliances and the trade-offs of peacekeeping.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of undying friendship, plus figuring out what your powers are and an ethical way to use them. Less positive: laser-focused determination to kill everything in your way (which may be out to kill you too, of course).

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sirscha is single-mindedly driven by her determination to be the Queen's Shadow, a position that includes lots of stealth, smarts, and fighting skills, and the killing off of inconvenient people. She's also part of a deep friendship with Saengo, whom she brings back from the dead, transforming their lives, making their bond essential to Sirscha's magic. Two princes are caught up in circumstances beyond their control and trying to behave with kindness, honor. But murderous villains, including those who exterminate entire races, are plentiful, as are monsters they create.


Relentless violence seems an obligatory part of the narrative. Story opens with main teen character being savagely beaten (as punishment) by sadistic fellow student (who tries to kill her shortly thereafter). Ending features a final corpse-strewn, calamity-foreshadowing battlefield, with supernatural villains, ghostly monsters, lots of bone-smashing, spurting blood, torture, crotch-kicking. Murderous villains exterminate entire races and create monsters. In the past, entire families and races of people have been exterminated for political revenge and paranoia. Sirscha wears scars dating from abuse she suffered in an orphanage.


A teen character is obligated to marry a neighboring country's princess to keep the peace. He's not happy about it.


Occasional "damn."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Brief reference to customers in an inn drinking something stronger than tea.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lori M. Lee's Forest of Souls is the opening volume of a new series involving death-defying friendship between two teen girls, set in a fantasy world of hostile kingdoms with varying relationships to magic and those who practice it. Those worlds are separated by the Dead Wood, which seizes unwary travelers and devours them body and soul. Narrator/protagonist/orphan Sirscha is obsessively ambitious about improving her fighting skills so that she can become a career spy and assassin, but is also deeply bonded to her BFF, the aristocratic Saengo, who's killed in an ambush early in the tale and brought back to life by Sirscha, who has unexpected (and unknown) magical powers. From the routine torture and beating of students to the extermination of entire races, with plenty of hacking, slashing, stabbing, spurting blood, and strategic crotch-kicking along the way, the violence (supernatural and otherwise) is relentless, and for many will overshadow the intriguing premise of a story with two friends, two princes, and no romance in sight.

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What's the story?

In the kingdom of Evewyn, Sirscha Ashwyn, abused orphan, and Saengo Phang, privileged aristocrat, come from very different worlds and have very different goals, but their friendship is strong -- so strong that when Saengo is killed in an ambush, Sirscha unexpectedly brings her back to life. In a world of warring, mostly magical kingdoms kept apart by the FOREST OF SOULS on their border, Sirscha's newfound ability, not seen for centuries, quickly attracts attention, and the two girls are soon undertaking a mission for the Spider King,  battling dark forces, soul-destroying diseases, and power-mad royals bent on destroying the peace.

Is it any good?

This is a dark magical tale of two teens, their death-defying friendship, murderous spirits in the trees and even more murderous, and power-hungry, royals on the throne. With two princes as peripheral characters, Sirscha and Saengo take center stage both in battle heroics and in working out the unexpected changes in their friendship when, in a moment of transformative revelation, Sirscha brings Saengo back to life in the wake of an ambush. Forest of Souls runs heavily to gore- and special effects-packed fight scenes with much carnage, and the relentless violence (physical, emotional, and magical) seems as much the point of the story as does the protagonists' friendship. This is the first volume of Lori M. Lee's planned trilogy, and the ending leaves plenty of wreckage, unexpected developments, and potential for further struggle.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the deadly, body-and-soul-snatching Forest of Souls, a fearsome place for any who must enter it. Why do you think forests are such a popular setting for scary stories? What stories do you think do the best job with this theme?

  • Sirscha and Saengo's relationship goes through many changes and much worry in the wake of Saengo's death and revival. How do you think life-changing experiences affect friendships? Have you seen this in your own life or your friends'? What happened and how did everyone deal with it?

  • Is bringing people back to life a power you'd like to have? What other stories have you read or seen where someone revives a dead person? How does this one compare?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love magic and friendship

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