Broken Web by Lori M. Lee (Forest of Souls sequel book review)
GENRE: YA Fantasy sequel
LENGTH: 382 pages
Sirscha is a bit more abrasive than your typical YA heroine and I think she may rub some readers the wrong way. Her behavior matches with her upbringing, however. This, accompanied by her selfless and brave moments, make me forgiving of her worse qualities. My favorite thing about her is how she doesn't rely solely on her magic but is trained as a solider and spy and quite capable in a combat situation.
SIrscha's best friend turned familiar (conduit to her magic) Saengo and Theyen (a foreign prince with whom Sirscha is allied) as well as her other ally Prince Meilken all return in the sequel. Saengo has a slightly more prominent role in this one. I still adored the sibling-like dynamic between Sirscha and Theyen. It adds a bit of brightness and humor to an otherwise dark series.
The Soulless himself was developed much more in this novel. In Forest of Souls he is really nothing more than a fearsome legend, but here he gains his sorrowful backstory. I find villains much, much more compelling when they have these sympathetic aspects to their stories so I was happy with Lee's decisions with him. I liked his relationship with Sirscha. It reads like, in another life, he could have served as a mentor to her, but instead he's been warped by tragedy and is trying to manipulate her.
The novel picks up right where Forest of Souls left off. This is the first time I can remember reading a sequel where the plot of the first novel wasn't vomited on the audience at the start. I personally appreciate this has I always reread the first book(s) in the series before reading the newest release so I find such recaps tedious and unneeded. If you're not like me in this regard, though, I can see you maybe being a little confused as you struggle to reorient yourself.
The novel, like its predecessor, is told from Sirscha's first person perspective, but it has lost a lot of those horror vibes I loved about the first novel. That has been traded for political maneuvering between the three kingdoms of the continent of Thiy. I'm obsessed with politics in fantasy novels (not so much in real life, though). I think it's because I'm a fantasy writer myself and the focus on politics and alliances and war feeds my world building addiction. The novel doesn't completely abandon its ghoulish elements; they're still scattered throughout. While not twins this novel is definitely sisters with Forest of Souls.
WORLD BUILDING As mentioned in the previous section this novel expands on the politics between the three kingdoms of Thiy which include: the Nuvalyn Empire (home to shamans), Kazahyn (home to those known as shadowblessed), and Evewyn (which is heavily prejudiced against shamans).
In the sequel we travel outside of Evewyn for the first time and see the Empire and even Kazahyn which was quite the opposite given magic thrives in those places. The smartest thing Lee does is give us something new to inspire while also returning us to the roots (no pun intended) of the first novel (we return to the Dead Wood where most of Forest of Souls) took place. Lee's mix of new and familiar gives the reader that sense of comfort and wonder both. World expansion in sequels/companions is a delicate thing that I don't think all authors can master. I would compare Lee's to another favorite YA fantasy author of mine, that being Isabel Ibañez. Both expertly execute the details.
FINAL THOUGHTS I was so, so nervous going into this sequel because so often sequels can't live up to the first novel for me. Middle novels within a series also have a tendency to drag out the plot and be boring, so I was afraid Broken Web would fall into this stagnant state. I was incredibly relieved that all my fears were unfounded. This is one of the best, if not the best, YA fantasy sequels I've read to date. It does everything right and Forest of Souls fans won't be disappointed. I can't wait til next year so I can read the trilogy's conclusion.
RATING: 5 ⭐️