Forest of Whispers

Forest of Whispers

This review is brought to you as part of the Virtual Book Tour for Forest of Whispers, hosted by Rockstar Book Tours.

Forest of Whispers was written by Jennifer Murgia and first published in 2014. It is a historical fantasy set in 15th Century Bavaria which focuses on a teenage girl who finds herself caught up in the horror of the witch trials.

Abandoned by her mother when she was just a baby, fifteen year old Rune has grown up as the apprentice to the local healer. Both respected and feared by the townsfolk of nearby Württemburg she has spent her childhood largely in isolation, avoiding other people wherever possible in case she is recognised. However, her life is thrown into turmoil when an accident sparks mass hysteria across the land. Plague has struck, wiping out an entire village, and the Bishop is adamant that a witch’s curse is to blame.

As her home is ransacked, Rune manages to flee to safety within the forest. It is here that she encounters Laurentz – heir to the Electorate of Eltz. Laurentz has been sent by his father to warn the townsfolk of the plague but finds himself shocked by the barbarism that he discovers in the town. Captivated by Rune at first sight, he swears that he will do everything in his power to keep her from harm.

But the situation is more complex than either teenager can imagine. There is a greater conspiracy at work, headed by one who would benefit greatly from the witch hunts. On top of this, Rune is haunted by the voice of her dead mother and it forever urges her to accept her birth-right – to embrace her blossoming powers and take revenge on all those who have ever hurt her.

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Forest of Whispers is a beautifully written novel that paints an evocative image of 15th Century Germany. The setting of the story is almost Gothic, weaving in ethereal forests, villages of frightened peasants and airy castles. It is clear that Murgia is an incredibly talented writer as she manages to avoid any purple prose, creating a story that is rich in poetic language without ever seeming too heavy or over the top.

The beautiful descriptions of the Black Forest were so vivid that I almost felt as though I was there and it provided a sharp contrast with the scenes set in the Drudenhaus. Forest of Whispers treated the witch trials with all the stark realism that they deserve. Although everyone is aware of the witch trials that occurred in Salem and England, very little is written about those in Eastern Europe which were arguably the most brutal of them all. Murgia does not pull any punches in her descriptions of the torture and death that innocent women faced. Although the story does not show a lot of the violence, the implication of what has happened is often far more effective. The scene in which Rune realised that her pregnant friend had been subjected to the strappado truly set my teeth on edge.

Magic within the story is also used very sparingly. Many of the magical occurrences can be given mundane explanations, leaving the reader open to decide just how much power the characters in the story actually progress. Although magic and spirits do clearly exist in this universe as Rune does occasionally call on both as the story progresses, their function is downplayed and so a lot of the focus falls on people’s attitude towards magic rather than on flashy powers. I found this to be a very effective way of presenting the story as it ensured that the fantasy elements never overshadowed the serious historical aspects of the plot.

As the story progressed, it grew increasingly complex. While it started out as a simple story about a girl trying to escape horrible persecution, it became rapidly apparent that this element was wrapped around a larger tale of political intrigue, murder and treachery. The author did a fantastic job of gradually revealing this bigger picture as the story progressed. Little hints surfaced throughout the tale which, in hindsight, did pave the way for what was to come but the full impact of the conspiracy was not felt until the final few chapters.

If I do have to criticise something, I would just say that did feel on a couple of occasions that characters withheld information from Rune or Laurentz for no good reason. However the final twist of the story was very satisfying and cast a light on the actions of some of the secondary cast members. In addition to this, the story did end very abruptly. After the climax, the story wrapped up in matter of pages. This was a bit of a shame as I would like to have seen if Rune and Laurentz’s relationship could endure the final revelations. I don’t know if this book is intended to be the first part of a series but I hope that it is. I would love to read what happens next.

All of the characters in the story are fantastically developed, showing many layers and a great degree of character development. Many of the secondary characters have hidden agendas that gradually unfold as the story progresses. These revelations make the characters all the more interesting, as it completely flipped my expectations of them.

The characters of Rune and Laurentz were both incredibly well rounded, both showing a fair share of positive and negative character traits. I felt that Rune’s character came across the strongest, Murgia skilfully showing how torn she is between her desire to stick to her Mutti’s teachings and avoid the temptation for evil that her spectral mother represents. Rune stood out as an incredibly sympathetic character and gradually moved from strength to strength within the tale as she began to accept who she was.

Laurentz was also a very interesting character due to his strong moral compass. Although I did find him to be a bit wet at times (I’ve never been one for love at first sight), his draw to Rune is understandable based on what we learn about him later in the story. I also appreciated the fact that the novel showed that he had a strong desire to do the right thing, even though the thought of witchcraft frightened him. Characters always seem more heroic to me when they act for the greater good even when they are terrified. Laurentz’s backstory was also very sympathetic and I liked the way that the author entwined it with Rune’s – learning how the two of them were connected was one of my favourite developments within the story.

So what did I think overall? Well, I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed Forest of Whispers. The plot was complex, containing beautiful descriptions and complex twists, and the characters were well rounded and fully developed. Although I did feel that the story ended rather abruptly, I can find very little to criticise about it and would recommend it wholeheartedly to any fan of fantasy stories.

Forest of Whispers can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jennifer Murgia
    Sep 09, 2014 @ 12:59:18

    Thank you so much for this incredible review!


    • Kim
      Sep 09, 2014 @ 13:10:39

      You’re very welcome! It was a fantastic read and I’m very glad that I had the chance to review it. Best of luck with the remainder of your tour!


  2. The Cover Contessa
    Sep 09, 2014 @ 13:13:18

    Terrific review! Thanks so much for sharing!


  3. Trackback: 1st Anniversary! | Arkham Reviews

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