The Drowned Woods


Emily Lloyd-Jones


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

January 30, 2023

read a positive review of The Drowned Woods in Bookpage, and it sounded intriguing, so I ordered it from the library catalog. I really enjoyed this story - it has excellent world building, believable characters, and it spins a well-plotted tale. The book was enjoyable enough that I shall look for Lloyd-Jones' other novel set in this fantasy world: The Bone Houses.

The Drowned Woods tells the story of Mererid ("Mer" to her friends), a young woman who is a gifted water diviner. A water diviner has fantastical magical powers that give her control over water. She can call water to her, she can bring rain, she can turn water to ice, or cause it to boil - these last two traits make her a dangerous opponent, because Mer can freeze the blood in your veins, or boil your eyes in their sockets. When Mer was just a child, she was taken away from her family to serve the powerful Prince Garanhir of the kingdom of Gwaelod. The Prince Garanhir is ambitious, plotting to attack the neighboring kingdoms. One of the Prince's schemes was to use Mer's ability to locate the wells of his opponents. His soldiers then poisoned the wells, kill hundreds and spreading strife amongst his opponents.

When Mer discovered the Prince's evil machinations, she engineered an escape and now she lives a wary life, serving drinks in a tavern. But Mer's talent is so powerful that schemers desire to utilize her abilities to further their own nefarious schemes. One day Renfrew, the old spy master for Prince Garanhir, appears in the tavern. Renfrew explains that he no longer serves the Prince, indeed, he now lives to destroy the Prince. Proof of Renfrew's new convictions is the fact that the signet ring which had been welded to Renfrew's finger is now gone, and so is the finger it had been attached to. Ring and finger were cut away when Renfrew refused to further the Prince's expansionist goals. Renfrew explains to Mer that there is a magic well that harbors the power that make the walls of his castle impregnable. Destroy the well, and the Prince will become vulnerable. Wouldn't Mer like to join Renfrew in a quest against the evil Prince?

Renfrew needs a few more recruits to join his team to destroy the magic well. One team member is Fane, a fighter who has been gifted (cursed?) by the otherfolk (faeries) to be invincible in battle. Fane originally pledged his services to the otherfolk for seven years, in exchange he would be able to hunt down and kill the seven men who murdered his entire family. But when Fane tracked the first killer to his home, he beheld a man sitting in a house with a family, laughing and loving his own children, and Fane found that he could not murder the man, not even for revenge of the deaths of his own family. Now Fane has the magical ability to vanquish any seven men, yet he doesn't want to use that power.

Ifanna is an exceptional thief. She is also the heir apparent to the powerful Thieves Guild in Gwaelod. Ifanna loves a challenge, an impossible heist is an attractive job proposition to her. And there are supposed to be incredible treasures hidden in the magic well that protects the Prince's castle.

Renfrew assembles his team of experts. Naturally, several of the team members have a hidden agenda. Renfrew has omitted a few crucial details about the well's magic and its guardians. And the magic well is protected by surprises of its own.

Mererid is a well-drawn character. Despite her magical powers, all she really wants is a quiet, safe place to live, away from the minions of the Prince that would gladly drag her back into his evil service. I liked the world building - there is magic in the land (plus, Fane has a corgi which may be more that just an incredibly smart dog). The story is nicely plotted - as secrets are revealed, the reader sees different characters in new light. There are several surprises, and quite a few dramatic scenes. The entire tale is told in a single volume of 341 pages, so there is no wait for the next installment in an infinite series. I am now looking forward to other works by Lloyd-Jones.