Reed’s Recommendation Corner: The Butcher of the Forest by Premee Mohamed


The background is green leaves on trees, with red apples scattered throughout. A golden unicorn, rabbit, fox, and bird all have skull faces.
The beautiful, yet sinister cover art really helped sell me on this book.

The forest isn’t safe. Everyone knows this and are taught the ways to protect themselves from what lurks there. However, when war comes to the area, no one really informs the Tyrant of the dangers, even when he builds his fortress close to its threshold. When his children go missing, only one person can help him - Veris, the only one who has ever successfully entered and returned.

This story is definitely a dark fairy tale with Veris following as many rules as she remembers as she seeks out the Tyrant’s children while the threat of losing her village looms over her. The Tyrant is not someone to be disappointed, especially not when it comes to his progeny. 

For as short as this novella is, the impact of Mohamed’s words slashes at you from each page. The children, for their part, are as innocent as children of a warlord can be. Veris spends a lot of time struggling with the morality of saving these two children, who would go one to take the Tyrant’s place. Are they truly innocent or should they be judged by their father’s sins?

Veris, for her part, has her own grief from her first visit to the Elmever forest and the trauma of a life lived under a warlord. There is a lot of nuance to this novella, including an exploration of what it means to be a parent and loss (of innocence, of family, of identity). Another wonderful aspect of this is the exploration of the grays in life. Each creature Veris meets, including the Tyrant himself, has both good and evil in them. Not every person’s motives are strictly black and white - and even Veris herself has secrets that will affect her journey to rescue the children.

There are a few content warnings for this - child loss (via death and/or kidnapping) and war with all the horror that contains. There is also mention of child prostitution and injuries related to that. 

I recommend this to anyone who loves dark fairy tales and exploring gray morality.

And remember, when the last page is turned and the last chapter read, I shall be here with another book suggestion, should you need it.