May 302024

Shelf Awareness: A woman forced into heroism races against time and sinister magical forces to save her family in the perfectly paced and deliciously threatening dark fantasy novella The Butcher of the Forest by World Fantasy Award winner Premee Mohamed (And What Can We Offer You Tonight).

“It was not yet dawn when they came for her,” the story begins, setting an ominous tone that only intensifies as men drag villager Veris Thorn before the Tyrant, her realm’s merciless conqueror. His two children have vanished into the Elmever, a parallel magic world that invisibly opens from a nearby wood, and he has heard that only Veris has ever brought a child back from it alive. He orders her to retrieve his children or “your village will be razed… and we will roast your people alive… and eat them.” Veris slips into the Elmever with only three tokens to guide her and a single day to retrieve the children. She must face poisonous magic; half-rotted undead beasts bent on devouring her; and elder beings who want her deepest self, all to save the children who will one day oppress her people in place of the Tyrant–if Veris can bring them out in one piece.

Mohamed puts a chilling twist on the fairy tale of the stolen child. Veris, a commoner in her late 30s with little power beyond her wits and experience, makes for a captivating heroine whose vulnerability and fear give the narrative the gasping tension of a horror movie. Butcher of the Forest is short, sharp fantasy at its finest.