Review: The Golden Forest (webtoon)

I’ve been in a slump when it comes to reading fantasy stories recently, especially epic fantasies. The kind that takes its root into your soul and carries you into a whole other world. Fantasy stories were the main reason I started loving reading, particularly fiction, at an early age. And so, it will always have a special place in my heart.

I’m so happy to find another fantasy world that’s so immersive, with characters so compelling, I think about the series constantly since I finished reading its most recent updates. Let’s jump in.

The Premise:

From Manta – A slave girl blessed with a curse. “Don’t forget. You owe me a life, and you promised to be mine.” Reniae was blessed with the ability to charm men by the goddess Inanna. But for her, it feels more like a curse. After being taken as a slave to the Golden Forest, she flees to the Northland where she finds Kun… and saves his life.

What I Love:

The writing

Like I mentioned above, it’s been a while since I felt incredibly drawn into a fantasy story. Like sure, I probably read a few casual fantasy here or an urban fantasy there. As an OG PJO girlie, it’s just second nature to me – it’s like breathing even. But it’s been a heck of a long time since I’ve read an epic fantasy with such a solid story structure and a worldbuilding you can’t help but dive into. The amount of details they’ve put into creating lore, mythology and how that connects to Renaie’s story? Chef’s kiss.

And that’s saying something when I describe myself as a heaux for character-oriented stories over plot-driven ones.

Off the top of my head, one other story I can think of that has the same immersiveness is Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (Twitter review thread here) and that’s literally because Black Sun is the one other epic fantasy I’ve read in the past couple of years that still has me on chokehold. To this day.

The Golden Forest has the same quiet tenacity and insistence with its storytelling. It lets you settle in for a while before completely seizing you in its grips. And the storytelling, oh the storytelling. The act of telling a story itself is a huge aspect of the series. Hearing a rumor in town, well-known legends spread far and wide, news announced from the neighboring kingdom. All of these are very prevalent not only to how the overall story unfolds but how it affects our main character, Renaie, and the people around her. And for us readers, it’s like witnessing history while it’s being written. There’s never one correct perspective but at one point, every character in the series believes one version of the story to be true – until or unless their belief is challenged. It’s one of the best things about this series to me.

The main characters

Initially, Renaie was personally hard to like as the main character. She comes off bitter and cynical – almost seemingly for no reason at all. But as you slowly progress into the series, knowing her back story, everything makes total sense. There’s that natural flow of understanding that passes between her and the reader that I enjoy as the story goes on, and I realize everything she does is done with either intention or a very valid reason. I still feel pretty meh with Renaie personally but I can appreciate the type of main character she is and how well-written she is.

Kun, on the other hand, exudes comfort to me and I think that’s what he is to Renaie too. Despite looking big and intimidating and being a descendant of the Cannibal Eagle, a group of people who are stereotyped in their world to be savages, he is extremely earnest and always chooses hope – at times, even in a childish stubborn way. In that sense, he’s a complete opposite of Renaie, a pragmatic whose formative years were spent trying to survive. They complement each other.

And then there’s Gizzida. The other male lead who looks elegant and beatific but is in fact frighteningly calculating and unhinged. However, at times he only shows a sliver of vulnerability with Renaie. His and Renaie’s relationship is a complex one and even now I still don’t understand a lot of it but it’s very compelling and I’m curious to see how it goes.

Final thoughts:

To me, it feels quite undermining to categorize The Golden Forest as simply a romance set in a fantasy world. How it pays attention to lore and general worldbuilding and the series’ commentary on religion, faith, discrimination and biases borne out of and justified through lore is one of if not its strongest suit. Sure, the trio’s romance may be at the front and center of the story, but it tackles elements beyond that. It’s the very reason why I’m captivated by it, perhaps in the same way men are captivated with Renaie.

The Golden Forest manga adaptation, adapted by Gyeonji and illustrated by Ryuhwa, is currently on hiatus. The original Korean webtoon will be back on 22 June 2022 while the official English translation will be released on 16 July 2022 on Manta.

Read the official English version on Manta here!

Its source material though, the original webnovel by Yoon So-Rie, is already completed and available to purchase in its original Korean version either per episodes or as volumes on RIDIbooks.

Read the original Korean webnovel per episode here, or buy the two completed volumes here.

This is definitely one of Manta’s less hyped titles in their library and I honestly hope it gets as much love and attention as their more popular titles like Under the Oak Tree. That said, this story does contain some graphic scenes. Please check all the Trigger Warnings before reading.

Featured image is a snip from Manta’s The Golden Forest page, linked above.

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