Premee Mohamed’s 2024 The Butcher of the Forest is a stand-alone fantasy novel.
Woken in the middle of the night and firmly escorted from her home by the Tyrant’s men, Veris Thorn expects the worst.
As well she might.
Some years ago the Tyrant’s army descended on Veris’ village. Armed with superior weapons and vastly superior numbers, the Tyrant’s forces killed any who resisted and many who did not. Having crushed all resistance, the Tyrant mandated the construction of his current home, a vast fortification dominating the land around it. Or rather, almost all of the land.
The exception is the forest north of the valley. Wander too far into that forest and one enters the Elmever. The Elmever is populated but not by humans. It abounds in magic. Foolish humans who wander into the forest do not return. Having tested the forest with his soldiers, the Tyrant knows that this holds for his men as well1.
The Tyrant has two children, nine-year-old Eleonor, and seven-year-old Aram. For reasons unknown, the pair snuck out of the castle and into the north woods. They have not returned. Any reasonable person would give them up as effectively dead. The Tyrant is not a reasonable person.
In the entire known history of the north wood, a single person has entered the wood in search of a child and returned alive, with the child in tow. That person was Veris. The Tyrant orders her to duplicate the trick. If she rescues both children, she lives. If Veris fails, the village will be leveled and burned; its inhabitants will be brutally murdered and their bodies desecrated.
A small chance of success is better than the certainty of an immediate, horrifying death. On the slim chance that she can save the two children and everyone she loves, Veris enters the woods again. She is armed with the knowledge gained during her first foray. What she needs is luck.
This may well be the Year of Premee Mohamed. In addition to this work, my inbox holds three more works by the author: No One Will Come Back for Us and Other Stories, The Siege of Burning Grass, and We Speak Through the Mountain. I know of at least one more novella to come, 2024’s One Message Remains, and I believe there will be another collection.
Among the author’s many sterling qualities: Mohamed is Canadian. If there is one truth all Canadians know, it is that forests are dark realms. Death lurks behind each tree. This is true even for that minority of Canadian forests that are not currently on fire. Dispatch a child into the woods, even a child slathered in protective barbeque sauce, and you may never see that child again.
In the Elmever’s defense, it does not seek out its victims. To fall prey to the alien realm just beyond the treeline, one has to wander into its domain, either deliberately or by accident. As well, there are rules to be followed, although of course those rules are not explained to trespassers and a certain degree of cheating is permitted… although, as Veris discovers, not by humans.
In contrast, the entirely human Tyrant is far worse than any supernatural threat. The Tyrant may decide on a whim to appear with his legions on your doorstep. The Tyrant may decide to order appalling atrocities for any action or lack of action. You may perish as an unintended and unnoticed side-effect of one of his little projects. You’re better off taking your chances with the Elmever.
Butcher is an atmospheric tale that begins in dread and provides an entertaining sequence of increasing disquieting encounters, accompanied by increasingly tragic revelations. Although the novella is not long, it is as long as it needs to be. The narrative is very efficient, and if reading it won’t fill an entire day, it might well fill your nightmares.
The Butcher of the Forest is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada),here (Amazon UK),here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Chapters-Indigo), and here (Words Worth Books). Note that it releases later this month, so until that read “available” as “available for pre-order.”
1: There is no point in trying to burn the forest because the Elmever can and does quench fires.