by Kaitlin Corvus
Series: Sorrow’s Forest Duology #1
Genre: New Adult Urban Dark Fantasy
Intended Age Group: Adult
Published: July 16, 2022
Publisher: Shadow Spark Publishing
Shown on page:
Death of children
Drug and alcohol use/abuse
Imagery of dead animals
Mention of couples arguing
Mention of broken bones
At twelve years old, Mackie King had done something no one had ever done before: he had snuck into the forest, where Queen Sorrow reigned and had unintentionally stolen one of her devils while she slept in a death-like sleep.
In as little as an hour, the devil named himself Blue, fit almost seamlessly into the Kings’ life, and the Township of Lakeview.
Now, Mackie and Blue are grown, Queen Sorrow has awakened, and she wants her devil back.
In a fit of uncontrolled rage and desperateness, she snatches any that match Blue’s likeness. When their identities are revealed, she ruthlessly casts the bodies aside. Each murder is met with the town’s hopeless ignorance. A dark enchantment is sweeping over the land, dulling the minds of the townspeople to the supernatural violence.
Mackie has always been resourceful, but it will take every bit of ingenuity he and Blue have to thwart Queen Sorrow and her minions, save the town, and free themselves from the shadow of the bittering forest.
Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black • Broken Things by Lauren Oliver • The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
Life is full of hard truths and soft lies.
The sky is blue, the sun is bright, and the stars are more than just pretty lights in a darkened sky. The forest that encompasses Lakeview Township is off-limits because it’s teeming with vicious people-eating wolves. Shawn Macintyre, bike thief and bully, is mean because mean is in his blood. The river that snakes through the forest and widens in town never fully freezes in winter, and that’s why so many people fall through the ice and never come back.
It’s not always ignorance and lies, though. Lakeview knows the climate of the forest pressing against its borders. Mackie caught Father Callahan dousing his steps in blessed salt just this morning, muttering to himself about devils and a coming storm.
“Stay inside tonight, Mackenzie,” he said when he caught Mackie staring. “Weather’s changing.”
Of course, Mackie ignored him and now stands, hands flexing apprehensively at his sides, before the aforenamed forest.
“What are you waiting for, King?” urges Shawn. He’s practically salivating, looking for affirmation from their twelve other classmates, all standing in a semi-circle around the gigantic pile of blue Pixy-Stix they’ve built at the bottom of Mackie’s backyard. “Thought you weren’t a pussy?”
“I’m not.” Mackie waits for this lie to curl in his belly the way lies usually do. He feels nothing other than a small twinge of nervousness. He loves the forest. Has always loved the forest, as he loves most things that scare him: horror movies, the park after dark, leaping from Muller’s Bridge mid-summer, wondering if the water is just shallow enough to see the bottom but deep enough to catch him without breaking his back, or if he’s going to hit rocks and hurt.
“I get all the Pixy-Stix, right?” Mackie confirms. Blue is the best flavour. He likes it when his tongue, teeth, and lips are stained with the colour, and his heart beats fast with the sugar rush. He feels like he can do anything.
“If you make it out alive.” Shawn follows his ominous proclamation with a feral grin.
No one jeers because no one is pretending the forest is just a forest. Something is different tonight. The grade sixes sense it as well as Father Callahan did. Mackie’s classmates shift from foot to foot and look nervously into the trees. The forest merely sighs quietly, waiting for them to offer it a meal.
“Good luck, Mackie,” says Bree Lock, who is always looking at him from under her thick black lashes with her blue, blue eyes.
Mackie quarter smiles and faces the trees.
He’s peered into the forest plenty of times after dark. He’s sat at his bedroom window at the back of the house, watching the trees move like people, yanking their roots up and sliding across the grass. If he gets bored of that, he can spend his time picking out the bright eyes that study him from the shadows. There’s no shortage. Devils he calls them, because what other word is there for the peculiar beasts that roam beneath the trees?
It looks stiller than usual tonight, however, and that stillness fills him with a sense of unease.
With a breath, he goes forward. Not one of his classmates tries to stop him.
Beneath the overhanging cage of branches, an icy chill overcomes Mackie, and he forgets it’s a humid summer evening. It could be April, or early May, not late June. He checks over his shoulder. His classmates watch him from their half-moon circle a safe distance back. They’re silent and sombre, except for Shawn, who sneers and covertly flips Mackie off by rubbing his middle finger against his nose, and Bree, who watches from beneath her lashes again; the expression she wears is much more complicated than a twelve-year-old can be expected to decipher.
Already, they seem too far away to return to. Like the lawn is a lake he’s swimming across, and he’s closer to the far shore than the one he began from. He must press on so he doesn’t drown.
Mackie squares his shoulders and goes deeper.
The forest eats things, though no one will dare say so in as many words. People and pets get lost, their bones turning up days later, picked clean and piled neatly for authorities to find. When the police step between the trunks, searching for lost children, they get turned around for hours, only to come out the other side in the town of Owensboro, confused and scared.
The ban restricting travel into the forest at any time has been in place for years, well before Mackie was ever born. Wolves is what people say instead of monsters, because wolves, though feral, are more easily understood than the horrors that actually call Sorrow’s Forest their home.
Under the claw-like branches, Mackie is surrounded by something that feels very much like magic. It’s in every breath he takes, filling up his lungs and clouding his thoughts. It guides him onward.
Vines crawl from one thick tree trunk to the next, and lilies with bone-white petals shoot up from the soft ground, flowering even in the darkness. He thinks it’s his imagination when they turn their heads and follow his progress.
Looking back, Mackie can no longer see his classmates, only branches and ferns and stones.
Discarded tree limbs roll beneath his feet, but the ground and leaves are just the right amount of moist to mask his footsteps. He feels utterly alone. He may sneak up on something unsuspecting and scare it into a fight. Or something may sneak up on him. How will he fare against one of the forest’s red-eyed beasts? He’s tall and gangly without much muscle, though he can run.
Fireflies glow all around, bright, bright, bright, and tangle together into a long glowing rope, leading Mackie deeper into the trees, to an unknown prize.
Trees watch him with their knot eyes. And something in the dark holds its breath for his progress.
A little whip-poor-will cheers encouragement from on high as Mackie crouches beneath a soggy log and enters a grove so full of magic, he must breathe shallowly in through his nose and out through his mouth. His fingertips tingle with it, and the skin on his face feels raw and sunburned.
The feeling that he’s in a place he does not belong is overwhelming. He should turn back. He should never think about this place again.
But Mackie is pulled forward by an unseen force and continues.
The grass is knee-high and the pale silver-green of gemstones. Through trees as tall as skyscrapers, a brook meanders. Its water is glass-smooth and crystal-clear until a forked tail, sharp like a shark’s, pokes up through the surface, scattering whirligig beetles. It disappears. The beetles still again. The water settles.
Movement draws Mackie’s eyes to the left where a boy sits streamside with his hands in the water to his elbows. His hair is a blonde so pale, that it seems blue, like the blue star flowers in Mom’s gardens.
His eyes flutter up to study Mackie, and Mackie can see they are black. No pupils. He has a birthmark that starts in the corner of his nose and moves up across his right eye like someone has taken soot from a fireplace and smeared it on him.
Mackie thinks they’re near the same age.
The boy’s limbs are long and thin, like the branches of a willow. When he stands, he’ll be taller than Mackie by a few inches, at least.
Suddenly, he yanks his hands from the water, producing the biggest diving beetle Mackie has ever seen. In a flash, it’s gnashed between his teeth. Every time the carapace crunches, Mackie cringes. The boy seems indifferent—just a boy alone in the forest, eating what the water gave him—no fear of the dark and no fear of the monsters watching from the trees.
Perhaps he is the monster.
“Who are you?” Mackie hears himself ask.
The boy swallows and pulls his arms from the water. He has another beetle pinched between his fingers. He holds it out to Mackie like a present.
Mackie curls his nose. “Gross.”
Despite Mackie’s denouncement, the boy waits for another moment, arm outstretched, water dripping from his elbow to the ground and the beetle worming in his grasp. When Mackie still doesn’t take it, he shrugs and pushes it between his teeth. For a second, Mackie thinks they seem sharp. Too sharp. Then the boy runs his tongue over them, and Mackie sees they’re the same as his, middle-class straight and white.
Mackie steps closer. “Why are you sitting out here alone?”
The boy still doesn’t answer; it occurs to Mackie that he can’t speak or doesn’t know how.
“You know the forest is off-limits, right? I was just dared to come in here.”
He doesn’t really look like the other people in Lakeview. He’s too pale. Too thin. Too much something Mackie can’t quite place.
Mackie asks, “Do you live here?”
Again, the boy blinks at him.
“Can you hear me?” There is a deaf boy in his school. He has to have special classes and can read lips if the person talks slowly enough. Mackie tries forming his words carefully with his hands and his mouth. “What. Are. You. Doing. Here?”
The forest breathes in, tree branches wriggling, and sighs out as if exasperated. A second of silence passes, and then the trees start quaking, though no wind rustles the trembling limbs. Acorns and loose leaves tumble down and thunder on the forest floor. Some hit Mackie in the head. The grass sways at his feet, and the water sloshes against the stream banks as the very earth rumbles.
The boy falls back on his rump and Mackie crashes to his knees; hands planted in the dirt. Through his fingertips, he can feel electrical currents moving through the ground, vibrating up his body.
An earthquake, he thinks. Though they don’t live in an area prone to them, he’s seen a lot of National Geographic.
All around, worms struggle out of the dirt, trying to get away from the shifting ground as the grass blades crawl with disapproving insects. The trees shiver, then start leaning forward, closing in on them like a tightening noose, and Mackie knows, suddenly, if he doesn’t leave now, he never will. He will become part of the forest, leaving behind only his bones.
“Come on!” He gets his foot wet splashing across the river. When he grabs the boy by the wrist, the boy’s skin is slippery and cold. Mackie holds on tight enough; he’s sure he’ll leave behind finger marks.
The fireflies are still out, flitting in front of them with a golden-green light that shows some sort of path across the carpet of grass. The forest tunnels around them, forming a chute. Brambles, thorns, thick branches, and wide tree trunks block them from both sides, making it impossible to deviate from the predetermined pathway.
Mackie can’t help but think they’re being herded, corralled forward. Through this next thicket is likely a witch’s house or a devil’s layer, the kind of place that can’t exist without the oppressive weight of the forest hanging overhead.
I won’t stay here, he thinks desperately at the trees. You can’t keep me. It’s not where he belongs.
In contradiction, branches stretch like hands and scrape at his chest and cheeks. Roots get beneath his feet and rise unpredictably. He falls once, barely hitting the ground before he’s back up again and pulling the boy forward with renewed vigour.
A deep wail resounds through the trees and an unseen shockwave shudders from root to root, leaf to leaf. They curl, searching for each other to lock together and keep him there.
Paralyzed by fear, Mackie stalls. Sensing a moment of weakness, the forest surges forward to trap him in its shadow.
The boy crashes into Mackie’s back and propels him forward. Together, they break through the branches and suddenly onto the mowed grass of the Kings’ backyard.
It’s like coming out of the water after too long in its depths. The air tastes different. Fresh and clean and boring without the distinct tang of forest magic.
Mackie spins to eye the forest, sure it’s still hungry for him. Trees shudder one final time before straightening, then the fireflies disperse, and the forest seems normal once more if you don’t look at the red burning eyes of the devils hiding as they peer out from the deepest shadows.
Mackie doesn’t want to.
He examines his backyard. The circle of his peers is gone. They took the Pixy-Stix, too. Assholes. There is just his house sitting up on the hill. The only lights on are inside. Outside is dark, making the house seem more remote and shabbier than it really is.
Mackie still holds the boy’s hand. Their fingers feel welded together. He is so thin, Mackie is afraid that if he lets go, the boy will slip back into the forest, into whatever magical cove he crawled out of.
Mackie’s mother rushes to the door when they enter. Her hair, dark like Mackie’s, is pulled up high on her head and her face is clear of makeup this late in the evening. A half-smoked cigarette smoulders between her long, nicotine stained fingers.
“Where have you been?” she demands. “There was an earthquake. We were scared.”
Before Mackie can answer, Mom’s attention slides to the boy behind him. At first, she seems confused by the intrusion. Then, like magic, the lines on her face smooth out. “And Blue, you’re covered in mud.”
“Sorry, Missus King,” says the boy. His voice is soft and light and reminds Mackie of wild things. Mackie scrutinizes him. Whatever prevented him from speaking in the forest, he sounds fine now.
Mom’s face softens more. “That’s okay. Get cleaned up and ready for bed, boys. I’ll make the spare room.”
1. What inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired to write Sorrow’s Forest by a piece of art one of my friends made. @altairiis is an incredible self-taught artist and has made quite a few arts for Sorrow’s Forest now, but when the book first started, it was a Nanowrimo project that had nothing in its backbone except for a pretty character concept she made that I adopted for Blue.
2. What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?
I experimented a lot with this book, though most notably, I explored making a world within a world. First, we have Lakeview Township, a town like any other, but under that is Sorrow’s Forest, which is not just an ecosystem of its own, but also an economy. These devils are ancient. They were there before clear-cutting humans, and with any luck, they’ll be there for long afterward, too. I got to build an entire society in Sorrow’s Forest, and we explore it a lot more in the next book, coming out next July, tentatively named Sorrow’s Blight, but it was fun to get the foundation of this society down, so I had more freedom to run with book II.
3. What surprised you the most in writing it?
Minus a few tweaks and some added content, how easy this story came to me. I didn’t know I wanted to write about a society of ruthless and beautiful forest creatures. In fact, I didn’t know anything about this book when I sat down to write it. It was a surprise when Mackie went into the forest and stole Blue, and the ending (no spoilers) surprised me just as much, too.
4. If it’s not a spoiler, what does the title mean?
The devil that ruled the forest for centuries was named Sorrow. Because she’s been the ruler for so long, the name has permeated into Lakeview Township, and the humans call it that, too, though most don’t know why. Most have decided it’s called that because a lot of people and pets go missing in the forest—basically, anyone that goes in there, doesn’t come out alive, so a lot of sorrow surrounds it.
5. Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?
A few of them were. A couple know. There are more that I’ll never tell. Most of my characters are inspired by at least aspects of peoples’ personalities. It’s never the entire person inserted in my book, though, but someone will be reading it and be like, …is this me? And I’ll laugh awkwardly and tell them very firmly no because most of my characters are problematic and damaged in some Big Way and I don’t want them thinking that’s how I view them. (Because, most sincerely, it’s not)
6. Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?
There are a few prevailing morals that come through, I suppose. Predominantly, if you love someone, let them go. Also, don’t ruin nature because it has a way of ruining you, too.
7. What is your favorite part of the book?
I’m fond of the first time we realize Nerida, who is a mermaid-type devil that lives in the river that snakes through Sorrow’s Forest, exists. Mackie’s racing from his friend Sam’s house. It’s pouring rain, thunder, lightning, and the road is washed out. I won’t go into any further detail because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but I think (for me, at least) this is one of the most atmospheric parts of the book, and I really enjoyed how it turned out.
8. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
The most challenging was a character named Bree. She doesn’t play a huge role in this book, she shines a bit more in book II, but I knew I wanted to add her character, both as a child and an adult, to help flesh out Mackie’s. She was Mackie’s First Love—you know, the one that sticks with you the hardest—and she had to be perfect in the very limited time I had to make her that way. She had to be daring, and fun, and just a little bit mean, the kind of girl that’s wicked awesome to be around when things are great, and makes you want to pull your eyes out of your head when things are bad.
9. What are your immediate future plans?
Immediately? I’m finishing off writing Sorrow’s Blight (so close! Just a few more chapters, I think?) and then starting edits on that, in between editing a novel for an October 31st release, called Dark, Dark Heart. There is literally no rest for the wicked.
About the Author:
Kaitlin Corvus is a curator of the weird and unusual. She may or may not be a murder of crows in a trench coat. It can, however, be said with certainty she loves monsters. Toothy and gummy ones. Big ones and small ones. Weird ones. Pretty ones. Ugly ones. Totally benign ones. And especially the ones that crawl into your heart, nest, and live there forever.
Starts: July 25, 2022 at 12:00am EST
Ends: July 31, 2022 at 11:59pm EST