Gods of the Wyrdwood by R J Barker

June 29, 2023

Cahan du Nahare is known as the forester – a humble man who can nonetheless navigate the dangerous Deepforest like no-one else. But once he was more. Once he was a warrior.

Udinny serves the goddess of the lost, a goddess of the small and helpless. When she ventures into the Deepforest to find a missing child, Cahan will be her guide.

But in a land at war, in a forest full of monsters – Cahan will need to choose between his past life and the one he leads now – and his choice will have consequences for his entire world.

I loved both The Wounded Kingdom and The Tide Child trilogies, so I was excited when Gods of the Wyrdwood dropped through my letterbox with a satisfyingly solid thump. R J Barker’s latest is released this week and I’m pleased to confirm it is everything I have come to expect from the author, and more. 

It’s clear that Cahan du Nahare is a man haunted by the ghosts of his past. Every action he takes is an attempt to run further away from who he once was. Cahan wants to live peacefully, under the radar of the authorities, but life never works out that way. When it comes to helping others he might grumble and moan, but he is a good decent man at heart. Unfortunately, decent men always seem to have a way of making themselves known. Cahan is a fascinating character, his internal anguish feels palpable. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, willing him forward with every step.

The doubt that lives within Cathan finds the perfect counterpoint in the character of Udinny. Initially, her behaviour may seem a trifle erratic, Cahan thinks so, but there is a certainty to everything that Udinny chooses to do. She has found a path and is determined to follow it wherever it takes her. 

At first glance, everything seems simple enough. Cahan offers to find a missing child with Udinny’s assistance. Simple things never manage to stay that way. Before you know it events have escalated into something far more complex. The local religious fanatics are an unforgiving lot and they’ve decided Cahan is a problem that needs to be fixed. Throw a living weapon with pacifist tendencies, a duo of undead warriors, all manner of weird creatures and a band of forest-dwelling bandits into the mix and you’re on to a winner.

The climax of the novel reads like a fantasy-fuelled Dirty (half) Dozen. Our protagonists and a handful of poorly equipped, downtrodden villagers facing off against insurmountable odds1. This whole section of the novel is so well executed, I loved every second of it all. 

When it comes to awe-inspiring tales like this, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention something about world-building that is going on. R J Barker has clearly spent time considering everything down to the smallest details and it shows. He’s one of those authors who really excels when it comes to making the fantastical come alive. The Wyrdwood feels almost like a character itself. I love the idea of the interconnectedness of all things that exist in nature. In my wilder imaginings, Gods of the Wyrdwood has a Studio Ghibli-esque quality. There are hints of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke dotted throughout. Barker’s novel also touches on similar environmental themes seen in Hayao Miyazaki‘s work. As an aside, if Gods of the Wyrdwood does ever make the jump to the big screen the magicians at Studio Ghibli would be the ideal people to do it justice.

As I mentioned earlier, the physical edition of the novel has a reasonable heft to it2 so if you’re a weakling like me you may wish to consider the electronic version of the novel which I believe is considerably lighter. 

I’ll happily admit I absolutely devoured book one of The Forsaken trilogy3 and it feels to me like we’ve only just scratched the surface of a much larger story. Cahan has further to travel and his actions in Gods of Wyrdwood will undoubtedly have repercussions. I can’t wait to find out what they are. Once again R J Barker has delivered an epic piece of storytelling flawlessly. Every time I think he can’t possibly top his last novel he goes ahead and does exactly that. Don’t you just hate him?

Gods of the Wyrdwood is published Orbit and is available now. Highly recommended.

The musical recommendation to accompany Gods of the Wyrdwood is the soundtrack to Elden Ring composed by Tsukasa Saitoh. There is a majestic, gothic quality to the music that captures the otherworldliness of the Wyrdwood perfectly. 

1 As a wise man once said “Never tell me the odds.

2 Six hundred-plus pages will do that. 

3 Yes, it’s another R J Barker trilogy. Hurrah! 

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