SPFBO9 Semifinalist: The Sparrow And The Oak Tree by Jamie Jackson (reviewed by Esmay Rosalyne)

 

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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Sparrow And The Oak Tree
is an inventive romantasy retelling of the classic tragedy Tristan and Isolde. And
whether you are familiar with this source material or not, this story will
undoubtedly manage to surprise you in the most unexpected ways. It’s magical,
entrancing, intense, unsettling, charming, alluring, mysterious, spicy,
surprisingly dark, and… oh right, it has zombies!

For over a hundred years, no one has come out of the forest alive… until the
peculiar child that has just inexplicably wandered out of there. The King sends
sorceress Isolde, going by the name
of Sparrow, out on a mission to
investigate and eliminate the assumed threat. So, together with Bear, her mysterious newly assigned
bodyguard, she travels to the town of Perdition to complete this supposedly
easy task. However, no one could have suspected that the child would be a
creature from myth and legend who would whisk her away deep into the forest for
his own desperate needs. 
Now, fantasy romance/romantasy stories are a very hard sell for me personally,
so I was a bit nervous to dive into this one. Slow-burn romances will always be
my preference, but I actually was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed
the instalove/instalust scenario here. The dynamic between Sparrow/Isolde and Oak/Tristan
was very compelling and I appreciated that they both had very strong character
development and personal motivations outside of their romance. Also, their
instant attraction is very believable because of the magical bond/entangling
that pulls them together, so I was quite on-board for their passionate feelings
towards each other from the get-go.


Though, as much as I enjoyed the dynamic between Sparrow and Oak, I do
think that the plot and pacing suffered a bit from the big focus on their
attraction and lust for each other. Especially during the middle third of the
book, I found myself wishing that they could just be in a scene together
without becoming aroused or constantly dropping sexual innuendos into their
conversations.


Luckily, those pacing issues were somewhat alleviated by the unique multi-POV
storytelling, with Sparrow’s chapters being written in first person and the two
male POVs in third person. That contrast kept the narrative feeling fresh and I
really enjoyed viewing the other characters through each other’s eyes. It did
take me a bit to warm up to
Bear’s
perspective, but once he met up again with
Sparrow
and Oak, the banter and tension
between the three became very entertaining. Also, I really enjoyed his amusing
animal companion, the horse named
Horse,
who has just as much personality as the main three protagonists.


The unsettling and mesmerizing atmosphere of the dangerous woods ended up being
one of my favourite aspects of the story. I desperately wanted to discover more
about the mysterious force that was threatening the forest, and while I wasn’t
expecting so many gruesome horror elements here (hello creepy reanimated
corpses), I actually really enjoyed how much tension and suspense they added to
the story.


I also enjoyed the depiction of the Fae here, because I thought it was a nice
and refreshing take compared to the overly sexualised Fae stories with all
their convoluted court politics that have become so popular in recent years. 
Here, the Fae live as lone wolves and they all have their own magical
affinities, which I thought was so interesting and fun. Though, they are still
appropriately treacherous and vicious, except for Oak of course, he is a lovely
cinnamon roll… mostly.


I think I ultimately could have enjoyed this story more if it had struck a more
even balance between the romance and the mystery elements of the plot. Though,
I also fully acknowledge that was not the project of this story, and there’s
simply no denying that it delivered exactly on what it promised. Ultimately, I
am very glad that I just sat back and trusted the author to bring it all
together, because the ending was everything I could have asked for and
immediately made me forgive a lot of the little nitpicks I had along the way.


If you are looking for a beautifully written and highly atmospheric fantasy
romance with lots of angst, sexual tension, alluring Fae, mysterious magic,
entertaining banter, and some surprising horror elements, then I can’t
recommend
The Sparrow And The Oak Tree
highly enough!

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