Rating: 4 stars out of 5
“The Guide mentioned puddles, but I envisioned lakes, deep treacherous lakes, and I was drowning.”
Truth Seeker Kelnaht, a cloud elf, is tired of sneaking around to see his tree elf beloveds. The Solstice is approaching and nothing feels right in Kel’s world with his Triad incomplete. His lover, a forester named Taruif, is still shunned, sentenced to 40 turns cast out for the recent horrible events (The Forester -The Forester Trilogy, #1) . Taruif now lives on the outskirts of the village and Kel must use every trick to secretly visit him without the others finding out. Kel’s other unacknowledged lover, the smith Ianys, visits him furtively,approaching Kel only when Ianys has a good excuse to use as camouflage for their assignation. Ianys is afraid to break a promise given to his deceased vowed and lose his daughter in the process. Only visiting with The Guide, their spiritual pathfinder, has Kel been able to find a measure of solace and hope.
Kel knows that the Elders are discussing reducing Taruif’s sentence, and the stress of not knowing is becoming unbearable. Ianys too is struggling with their situation and it feels like Kel is losing Ianys as well as Taruif. Then a young elf goes missing, and all the clues point to Taruif as the culprit. Kel needs to find the stripling and return him safely to his parents before the Solstice and learn who is behind the scheme to frame his lover. All before the elders announce their decision regarding Taruif. Master Kelnaht must hold on to his hope as the path to happiness turns treacherous for them all.
The Forester II: Lost and Found was my first introduction to this trilogy by Blaine D. Arden. But upon finishing this lushly spellbinding tale, I quickly returned to grab up the first story, wanting to know all about these charming characters and their complicated relationship. I did so because for the most part The Forester II: Lost and Found is not a story that can totally exist as a standalone tale. While Arden does supply a sufficient amount of backstory to these elves and their tumultuous relationships, these characters are so well created that the need to know more becomes almost compulsive by the end of the story. In fact I feel that way about almost every aspect and element that Blaine D. Arden has constructed for this Trilogy and the universe these characters inhabit.
There are the cloud elves with wings and the tree elves tied to the earth and such a combined existence can bring about much pain and longing to those who cannot fly. That is a truth that runs throughout the first two stories and its one that has haunted mankind since the first person watched a bird in flight in awe, hungering to do the same. Arden takes this undeniable longing and threads it into multiple storylines with an authenticity that most readers will understand and relate to.
I love Arden’s descriptions here, whether she is letting us feel the burden of loss that Kel is feeling or the complexities of flight under adverse conditions. And overlapping all of those elements is a layer of investigation and discovery carried out in search of the missing elf. Looking for clues while flying through the woods or over a meadow, how wonderful an idea! Kel has a cadre of elves working with him, similar to an elf forensic team. They scan the soil, search under leaves and moss, make casts of footprints as they gather evidence to the crime. I really enjoyed this aspect of the story. I found it not only fanciful but fascinating. Here is an excerpt:
We drew a rough map in the mud, indicating our discoveries and the possible directions to go next, and divided the routes amongst the three of us. After Ellon and Vroni took flight, Brem held me back, insisting I sit down and have a cup of tea to warm up first, though I suspected he only did it to give me a moment to catch my breath. Sometimes, he reminded me of my mother.
Despite the rest, my wings were more sensitive to the cold than they usually were. I shivered with every breeze, and my speed wasn’t optimal. The first place I landed held nothing of interest, and neither did the second. It took me longer to reach the third destination, with fatigue setting in, but even before I landed, I knew I’d find something. The earth was as muddy as the rest of the forest, but I still spotted footprints as I descended. Footprints of which parts seemed washed away in the rain. Well, that’s what it would look like from up close, but from here, the line seemed too clean, too sharp to be natural. I’d guess someone tried to sweep their tracks with a branch.
Studying the footprints, I found a piece of fabric next to the clearest of them, stuck in the mud, half hidden by fallen leaves. Thanking Ma’terra for the end of the rainfall and preserving this evidence, I performed a quick cleansing before digging out the fabric and wrapping it in goshe leaves.
As I examined the partial prints, the Guide’s saying came back to me. “When flood runs dry, stones stop sinking.” I shook my head. I had no idea how he did it, but he was right… again. Granted, I didn’t find stones, but the footprints and the line in the mud would have been hidden from sight had it still been raining. Unfortunately, I didn’t carry anything that would allow me to make a cast of the prints, so I secured them by covering them with goshe leaves I pinned to the ground with sticks. Not allowing myself any mistakes, I checked the fourth destination, even knowing I wouldn’t find anything there.
In Truth Seeker Kelnaht, Arden has created a sort of Master Elf Inspector and it works magically as well as realistically. And like any good Inspector, Kel has junior detectives helping in the search and providing insight along the way. Brem is one such character, strong and sure in his beliefs. Loved this character too. Brem will be leaving for his own Truth Seeker role in another village and I hope that Arden allows him his own mystery or two in another story.
And then there is the romance and Triad relationship between Kel, Taruif, and Ianys. The Forester II: Lost and Found starts with the three elves pulled apart by the painful circumstances of the first story. Told from Kel’s point of view, we are never quite sure what the other two elves are feeling or thinking which adds to our understanding of the stress that Kel is under. There are scenes that help convey the love and deep feelings that all three elves hold for each other. And while I wanted a little more romance, ultimately their need for each other came across without additional scenes required. Both Taruif and Ianys appear and disappear often from the narrative because of the need to hide their continuing relations with Kel but that also keeps both characters at an arm’s length from the reader.
I felt that of the two, Taruif was the most accessible of the lovers with Ianys pulling away from his lovers, from their standpoint, for most of the story. And while there is some resolution here for the Triad, there is clearly more to come in the final chapter. Both the first story, The Forester (50 pages) and the second, Lost and Found (88 pages) are short enough in length that they can be read in one sitting, one right after the other, which is what I recommend.
The Forester, The Forester II: Lost and Found and Oren’s Right, which can be found in Storm Moon Press’ Carved in Flesh anthology, are all a part of Blaine D. Arden’s The Tales of the Forest universe. I will eagerly await the last story in The Forester Trilogy. If you are new to this universe, start with the first Forester story and work your way forward. I think you will find this as elven world as addicting as I do.
Cover art by Nathie Block. This cover is just gorgeous. It’s lush, a visual treat and so perfect for the story within.
ebook, 88 pages
Published December 21st 2013 by Storm Moon Press
Buy Link at Storm Moon Press