Tower in the Crooked Wood is a female lead tale set, as are so many fantasy novels, in a vaguely medieval forested land. High Fantasy has changed in the decades since the publication of Tolkien's LOTR trilogy; contemporary readers want to know more about the lives of ordinary folk: what they eat, what they wear, how they raise their children and make a living.
Johanson is brilliant at this kind of local colour. For example, in her travels Jenia relies on her training as an arborist to rehabilitate a martial lord's neglected orchard and later to recognize the dark magic afoot in the crooked wood. The trees within are not what trees should be, and because of it Jenia recognizes that she is close to her goal.
As in all the best quest novels, Jenia learns about herself, about others, and about her place in the world. Just like in real life, work, friendship and storytelling are important parts of Johanson's beautifully built world. The author is an avid kayaker and her love and knowledge of the outdoors imbues her narrative with a rich verisimilitude. As well, the reader will remember spunky, sympathetically drawn Jenia for a long time.
Ursula Pflug is author of the novel Green Music and the story collection After The Fires. Visit her on the web at: http://ursulapflug.ca