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Forest Gods, by Ryan Campbell, reviewed by Travis Kane
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Forest Gods, by Ryan Campbell, reviewed by Travis Kane

The second gem has popped up at last, this one far longer than the last book, but still just as good if not better. Forest Gods is the second book in the Fire Bearers Trilogy by Ryan Campbell, and takes place right after the events of the first book, God of Clay. We pick up with two main narratives. Doto and Clay continue their quest into the savannah in search of the god Sarmu, who can explain what happened in the past and set the record straight. Truths are revealed, anger boils, and conflict emerges in ways not expected. In this book, we also have a new character added to the scene. Cloud, the medicine woman of Clay’s home, must figure out how to wade through a dangerous political disaster. She must face Clay’s drunken brother, Ram, the newly made king, and Laughing Dog, who has returned, bringing dangerous new ideas with him, while also standing up against Kwaee’s wrathful forest that seeks to terrorize the village.

Besides the well written prose, Campbell’s characters, their actions, and their emotions drive this great story forward. In Doto and Clay’s storyline, we run into questions of morality, of vengeance versus mercy. Doto takes an action that Clay finds horrific when confronted with two wandering hooligans, causing a rift between the two characters. After confronting Sarmu, Doto must confront his own father after discovering a secret about his birth mother. Doto is by far the best character of the series, changing throughout the entire novel from a wrathful, vengeful deity to one of a self-sacrificing nature. Doto displays a wide variety of emotional struggles, from rage, to a depressed like state, to one of love and compassion. Clay changes as well. He stands up more to Doto now, appalled at an action Doto commits. As a result, Clay starts to question his own ideals of who the gods are, and what their true nature actually might be. Will he leave Doto after seeing how the gods behave and return to his home village where he is needed most, or will he remain loyal to someone he treasures most dearly?

Meanwhile, Cloud’s story is quite a thrill ride. Her story is one of political struggle. She stands against Laughing Dog, who seems to have gone insane. Here we encounter two opposing forces and their ideas. Old versus young, woman versus man, tradition and wisdom versus new ideas and progressivism. The themes that pervade her narrative make me think of today’s society, on how we treat tradition versus newness. Which is better? Are progressive ideas always right and better, or is tradition better? It’s like watching a sociological drama playing right in front of you. You get to watch not only Cloud’s decisions, but the village’s decisions as a whole, and how they react to the consequences of their decisions. One could even analyze this story with evolutionary and psychological concepts, on how humans respond to fear and uncertainty, and how they can change. At the end of the book, we wonder if the village made the right decision or if they were simply misled. It is also terrifying to watch Laughing Dog, how he takes a really awful situation and turns it around to convince the villagers to turn against the forest. He makes persuasion look so easy, but Cloud is always there to fight back against him, no matter what insults he throws at her.

Overall the book is well done. The description well written, the pacing suspenseful, the tension and frustration superb. The style’s mythic undertone flows perfectly with its own poetics. Doto’s character goes through the most change, dealing with truths, internal emotions, and loss. In the end, Clay makes his own choice, and pays an extremely heavy price. In Cloud’s storyline, the dialogue flows like a Socratic debate. The end of the story is not a cheery one like the last book. It ends grimly but with a glimmer of hope. The story comes full circle but still ends on a cliffhanger, leaving the reader saying, “And then what happened?” If a book can get you to say that and apply the ideas within the book onto the real world, then put it on your favorite bookshelf where you keep all your favorite books, and say, “This is going into my own personal canon of literature.” It’s a fun and an exciting read, filled with some volcanic action, tons of fire bursts, mysterious deaths, and great emotion. This book is truly a worthy book, and I look forward to the final conclusion of the epic tale. -Travis Kane for SiriusReviews.com

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