The Phantom Forest – Liz Kerin

What would happen if we got a glimpse of the afterlife? In this story, “Discovery of the afterlife had had irreparable consequences, so the Coalition abolished the notion of gods, fate, and prayer, worldwide.” Liz Kerin gives us a fresh take on what the world may look like if we saw beyond our realm in her book The Phantom Forest. Kerin intertwines her version of the afterlife and a fantastical twist on the modern day in such a way that captivates you and forces you to keep reading.
We follow Seycia, her brother Miko, and the demon Haben on their separate but entwined journeys for freedom and justice. Miko leads a revolution to overthrow the corrupt powers controlling the world, while Seycia learns how to navigate the underworld and destroy her own demons as well. Haben is a messenger between worlds bestowed with a sick punishment by the devil-like figure Dohv. Haben is tasked with consuming the flesh of sacrifices made in the living world, regardless of age. In the passage where we meet Haben we see him after the sacrifice of a young boy, “He cried as he gorged himself on the entrails, choking back sobs as he swallowed mouthful after mouthful. There was nothing lower than this. This— this was hell.” He fills his belly with the flesh of the sacrifice and starves the rest of the time. But, this is not the only dark secret he possesses, his destructive past is the key to the present. He joins Seycia on her quest to avenge not only herself but her parents.
On occasion, Haben’s character loses some of the tortured mentality and seems not to suffer as much as originally let on. I found that bothersome in a few ways, the first being that he doesn’t behave like someone who is constantly starving, secondly his pain seems downplayed, and lastly, this characteristic mostly disappears in the second half of the book.
Through The Phantom Forest, we see how changes in the afterlife have an impact on the world of the living, altering people’s fates and the outcome of a revolution. My only critique on this is that I wish I could have seen more. We see Seycia’s decisions change the trajectory of Miko, they flow together beautifully and I would have loved to see this expand. The author is the strongest when she is tangling and untangling the two storylines, her ability to connect character arcs left me satisfied.
At first, I had a hard time connecting to Miko. I didn’t see his relevance to the plot until later in the book. I kept asking myself, why is this character important? This question was eventually made clear, but I would have liked to felt a connection to him earlier in the book so that he was a well-rounded character.
Kerin does imagery very well, she will paint fantastic settings in your mind. I could see so much color and life in her story that it was hard to put down, I wanted to see where we would end up next. She creates her own lore that isn’t overpowering or hard to keep straight and puts you at the center of her beautiful world. The plot is easy to follow, unlike a lot of fantasy stories, you will not veer off in a thousand different directions. Overall the story is enjoyable and you will fall in love with Seycia’s all or nothing attitude and Haben’s heart wrenching back story.
This story is a fresh take on how government and religion clash. Kerin creates this world that seems like it’s going to be your typical fantasy style novel and it turns out to be something entirely different. It tackles the problems that arise when a government decides to eradicate religion, we see how it affects the people, and how it can change entire societal structures. One glimpse of the afterlife leads to war, poverty, and the destruction of history. This all plays out in this twisting tale of adventure, redemption, and vengeance.

I give The Phantom Forest a 4/5 stars. This is a solid 4 out of 5 because it exceeded my expectation but there were some aspects that could have been better.

You’re not going to want to miss The Phantom Forest releasing July 16th, 2019.