Book Review: The Forestwife by Theresa Tomlinson

I found this book in the YA section at a used bookstore and picked it up because of its content and its accolades as “an ALA Notable Book.” The Forestwife is a twist on the mythos of Robinhood, following a young woman named Mary as she escapes betrothal to a much older man after a shameful family situation. She runs away to the woods, finding her former wet nurse, Agnes, who has followed her.

Agnes leads them to the realm of the Forestwife. At first, Mary is afraid because of the tales of witchcraft following the legend of the Forestwife, but she quickly learns those tales have been encouraged to keep people away. The Forestwife, in reality, is a kindly woman who lives in the forest and provides help to all who seek her—a blessing and a burden all at once. Mary and Agnes find the elderly Forestwife dead, and Agnes takes over her role, burying the old woman and helping those who need it. In the meantime, Mary takes on the name Marian, and Agnes dyes her purple cloak green. Thus, Marian soon takes on the identity of the Green Lady in the Woods.

Without spoiling the plot points, I’ll say that besides Maid Marian, Tomlinson creates a subtle explanation for both Robinhood and the Green Man of  mythology. I especially enjoyed the author’s “Afterword,” in which she explains some of the research that went into the book and how she sought to research instances in England of strong women throughout history.

I enjoyed the tale, and the 170-page book was a quick read. I would have preferred just a bit more imagery. Being an American living in the 21st Century, I wanted just a bit more concrete imagery to help me understand what the forest looked like, especially when so many people moved in, as well as what castle life was like for the few scenes that took place closer to the castle. Other than that, though, I enjoyed the story. It would be an appropriate story for readers ages 13 and up, and I would expect it would appeal to females rather than males, with some talk of love and childbirth woven in. Researching the book, it appears it is part of a trilogy, so I’ll have to put the other two books into my TBR pile.

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