The Forest Beyond the Earth by Matthew S. Cox

The Forest Beyond the Earth by Matthew S. CoxCox layers the concerns and perspectives of a girl with overt and implied facets of a post-apocalyptic world, creating a quest that offers an engaging experience to both readers of both young adult and more gritty fiction.

Many generations ago, wrathful monsters scorched the Earth and themselves along with it, destroying civilisation and nearly wiping out humanity. Twelve-year-old Wisp has lived in the forest with Dad for as long as she can remember, without seeing another living person. Life is hard, but—with her collection of old books, her father’s protection, and her mother watching over her from the other side—she is happy. Except when the Tree Walkers, seemingly sentient vegetation, come in search of children to take. However, when something does find their haven, it is Dad and not Wisp who is taken. With only his rifle and what signs Mother can provide, she sets off to rescue him.

Cox creates a plausible and detailed apocalypse and aftermath, then filters it through the perspective of a twelve-year-old near-hermit. This narrative voice creates a story that focuses as much on the cusp of adulthood as any other young adult novel but without the usual tropes of romance and peer rivalry.

This isolation also allows Cox to present the reader with both new details of the world and uncertain narration without having to either dumb down Wisp or have implausible exposition. Instead, Wisp’s point-of-view includes plenty of information that a reader can use to form theories, but little certainty on whether the spirituality that Wisp firmly believes in is real or merely confirmation bias. As such, readers who enjoy a more philosophical aspect to narratives will find plenty to engage them.

However, this book is not a thinly veiled allegory or introspective character piece; Cox makes equal use of both the dangerousness of a post-apocalyptic world and the directness to which the young can be prone, to drive the plot forward at a thrilling pace.

As with Cox’s other young adult books, the threats are pitched at a level suitable for most readers but are also surrounded by little details and character behaviours that will imply to readers with more experience that other threats lurk unmentioned. This combination of clearly stated and left-to-the-reader maintains the feel (and suitability) of a young adult narrative without making the wasteland seem implausibly pleasant to readers with a more gritty perspective.

Wisp is a solid protagonist for a quest across unknown lands. Her great naïvety both provides significant obstacles in all situations beyond the small clearing around Dad’s hut and allows her to take what readers might perceive as high risks without nervousness. This initial ignorance is counterbalanced by a plausible level of intelligence and wits for her age, preventing her from becoming tediously inept in the face of the new or blithely trusting.

The supporting cast are well-crafted, both as characterful people in their own right and as a child’s version of post-apocalyptic tropes.

Overall, I enjoyed this book greatly. I recommend it to readers seeking post-apocalyptic adventure that will resonate with young adults without being solely relevant to them.

I received a free copy from the author with a request for a fair review.

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