Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Broken Forest by Megan Derr

What a truly marvelous tale! The Broken Forest is a very dark sort of twist on the traditional fairy tale, exploring not so much the archetype by the consequences of it. Megan Derr has crafted a powerful fantasy about two powerful women, each of them outsiders in their own way, facing off against the remnants of the Rapunzel tale. In this case, however, it's a much darker fairy tale, one of madness, murder, tragedy, and lingering horrors. To say much more than that would be to spoil the story, but it's a twist that's both innovative and powerful.

While I hesitate to call this a feminist fairy tale, only because of the political connotations that term holds for some, it is most definitely a story of strong women and gender roles. Adamina is a huntress, a dark-skinned, red-eyed warrior who sacrificed herself to the magic of her destiny, serving as protector and defender of the forests within the kingdom. She's the kind of woman villagers summon when there's no other hope, but only with great fear and reservation. Her kind aren't particularly liked, but they are respected for their power. Grete, on the other hand, is a more traditional witch, a woman who lives in the forest, crafting small talismans and performing minor acts of healing for those in need. Witches are no more liked and no less feared than the Huntresses, with the prejudices and fears of the villagers slowly erasing them from the world.

The partnership between Huntress and Witch is wonderful because it works on so many levels. Here are two powerful women, born of magic, who are outcasts to the villagers of the woods. Both have a connection to the forest, and a responsibility to care for it and everything in it. Grete, as it turns out, also has a deeper connection to the monsters of the tale, owing to her role in the Rapunzel tale, while Adamina is the only woman who can soothe the poisoned, maddened beasts, coming as she does from a magically significant family.

Finally, this is a wonderfully gender positive and sexually diverse tale that doesn't make a big deal about it. Adamina is transgender, but it's neither a problem nor an issue worthy of note. It's simply part of her character. Derr makes an offhand reference to her genitalia early on, and notes the flatness of her chest when Grete is bandaging a wound, but it's of far less note than her red eyes. Similarly, the budding romance between Adamina and Grete is neither celebrated for being unique nor condemned for being unusual. It's just a friendship with sexual undertones that brings the two women together, and which drives our happily ever after.

All-in-all, The Broken Forest is just a lovely tale, the perfect blend of fantasy, horror, and romance, with two wonderful heroines. I do hope Derr continues with the theme and explores more of her fairy tale world.

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