Zo And The Forest Of Secrets - Alake Pilgrim
The finished cover, above, and the beautiful proof copy, below, with one of my favourite quotes ( I'm even thinking it might make a good tattoo...!)
I'm a sucker for anything to do with the jungle, so, when this arrived, with a quote like this on the front, I was already hooked. A quote from 'The Explorer' author Katherine Rundell on the final cover sealed the deal...I'm hooked on this, the first in a duo of books featuring troubled teen Zo and her adventures.
Zo lives in Samaan Bay, Trinidad, with her mum and stepdad, Jake, and 'The Terror', a new baby brother. She isn't happy about her family situation, and especially misses her dad, so hatches a plan to get his attention/be reunited with him by running away....
Needless to say things don't work out, and soon, family issues ate the least of her worries as she faces a forest full of danger and menace, with terrifying monsters and danger lurking at every turn and over every page. Just when you think she might be safe, another encounter occurs - this is a story full of twists and turns, with a reveal at the end that I didn't see coming, and that has left me desperate for book two!
I loved the descriptions of the beautiful environment of Trinidad...from the opening in the fruit-filled market place to the flora and fauna of the forest, Alake describes it in beautiful imagery, then contrasts this natural beauty with terrifying descriptions of monsters and creatures from inspired by both traditional tales/myth and the future! I loved this contrast between natural and technological, past, present and future that occurs throughout the story.
From the spider-change of Mrs K and her witch-like warnings, to the sinister stinging 'gnat' that seems to start Zo's encounters with more and more dangerous beasts, the story is packed with characters and creatures determined to get Zo and prevent her from achieving her goals and getting to safety.
I'm trying really hard not to include any spoilers here, but if you like sci-fi and adventure, with some mild horror thrown in along the way, and an aside, but equally important message about mankind's treatment of the natural world, then you'll love this!
It's hard to put this on a bracket as a book...fans of 'The Explorer', Zillah Bethall's Shark Caller and Kereen Getten will love this for the settings and authentic location descriptions...and for thriller fans, there's even a mysterious abandoned facility that reminded me of Fleming's Bond adventures!
Zo is a great character, flawed and fragile in dealing with her family issues, but brave, curious and determined alongside this as she faces the challenges presented throughout the book. This really is an action-packed page-turner, with no rest for the reader as it races along...I just hope the sequel is as quick in its arrival as the action here is!!
A very, very accomplished and gripping debut...I'm hooked, and want to thank Alake, KnightsOf and Ed.pr for sending me a copy of the book and having me on the blogtour.
Follow Alake as @alake_writes, and publisher @_KnightsOf on Twitter for more information.
Listen to Alake in conversation with Sade magazine about Zo, here:
Check out what others think at the stops on the tour below:
Zo And The Forest Of Secrets is out now. Support your local independent bookshop if you're buying a copy, please!
Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot on Twitter and Instagram), June 2022. All views my own.