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The Butcher of the Forest
by Premee Mohamed

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted March 1, 2024

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There have been many stories of dark forests. I cannot recall one as bone-chilling as this new novella from Premee Mohamed. It features several children, but this is definitely not a children's story. The protagonist is 40-something Veris Thorn, who lives with an aunt and grandfather. Both her parents are dead, and while her mother died first, both deaths could be attributed to the deeds of The Tyrant and his soldiers when they invaded. The story begins early one morning with a loud banging on Veris's front door, so loud she thought they were using a battering ram. It was one of The Tyrant's men, with a heavy metal gauntlet on his arm. After confirming her identity, she is roughly pulled out of her house and thrown into a waiting carriage, which then raced her to The Tyrant's castle.

There were two forests, the one to the south rich with game animals, fruit and nut trees, fields of flowers and herbs. But the forest to the north was legendary as a place no mortal should go. Even The Tyrant found that out when he sent some of his troops there, none of whom returned. Now The Tyrant needs someone to go into the north forest and bring back his two children, who had slipped away during the night. Legend said one day is all anyone would get there. If they were still in the forest after that, they were trapped. Legend and history also told that Veris was the only person who had gone in and returned, bringing back the child they went to retrieve. If she refuses to rescue The Tyrant's children Veris will be killed, or if she makes the attempt and fails, everyone in her village will be killed, and every building burned to the ground.

There was a forest within the north forest, known as Elmever. Once into that realm confusion reigns. Time works differently there, it is perpetually dark, and one's sense of distance and direction are confused. Veris Knows things, remembers what worked for her before, although she couldn't trust those things would work this time. But those memories are all she has, along with three talismans she hopes will point her in the right direction. She gets advice from one being, sort of a cross between man, deer, and rabbit, simply by giving it some of her food. She has to make other deals along the way, giving up something to get other information. Two years off the end of her life. Reveal the saddest day of her life. She does find Eleanor and Aram, but getting back out of the forest is something else entirely. I won't detail more than that, but will mention that Veris, as determined as she is to complete the task, had to wonder if The Tyrant's children, given the chance, would grow up to be extensions of his viciousness. Or possibly worse.

One day in the forest is all one could take. You can read this novella in just a few hours, but it will stay with you much longer than a day. As dark, scary, and dangerous as the forest was, the darkest time for Veris was admitting to The Tyrant that she had lied about the saddest day of her life. I won't reveal what it was, but invite you to read the revelation for yourself. Please don't blame me if it breaks your heart, and don't blame Premee either. Sometimes catharsis is necessary for healing.


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Premee Mohamed

February 27, 2024

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