Romance Saturday Returns with Vera Nazarian’s “Cobweb Forest”

As long-time Shiny Book Review readers know, we enjoy reading romances and tend to review many of them on Saturday . . . and as Vera Nazarian’s COBWEB FOREST was next up in the reviewing queue, what could be better?

At the end of COBWEB EMPIRE, Ms. Nazarian threw in a stunning cliffhanger: The promised Cobweb Bride, which would heal the world by allowing people to die in their own, good times again rather than stay animated as all-but-zombies, turned out to be no such thing.

Instead, she was Demeter — the Greek goddess of corn, grain, and the harvest, who’s often depicted as a quintessential mother goddess and most definitely is the mother of the goddess Persephone.

To make matters even more interesting, Demeter had been going under the name of Melinoe, who’s a different Greek goddess entirely (the daughter of Persephone), one of nightmares and shadows, because Demeter hadn’t known who she was anymore due to drinking the water of Lethe. And she’d been deliberately hidden by her daughter, Persephone (the goddess, not Percy Ayren the mortal), given the false name and biography of Persephone’s daughter for whatever reason, and then left.

Mind you, in Ms. Nazarian’s conception, Melinoe was the daughter of Persephone and Hades (the Greek god of death), and died when brought up from the underworld as she was unable to tolerate the world above whatsoever.

So to start off COBWEB FOREST, you need to know that a deranged Persephone — who’s been masquerading as Rumalar Avalais, Sovereign of the Domain — is on the loose, killing as many people as she can get away with, and is proud of doing so because she’s gone completely off her head due to the death of the real Melinoe.

COBWEB FOREST begins with Persephone “Percy” Ayren and her lover, Beltain Chidair, hearing the explanation of Death, also known as Hades, and Demeter. This explanation is deftly done and gets in all the information required if you haven’t read the previous two books, COBWEB BRIDE and COBWEB EMPIRE (both reviewed here at SBR).

Of course, Percy and Beltain are horrified to know that things are even worse than they’d believed. Because they’d had hopes at the end of COBWEB EMPIRE that death would be restored to the world, and that life as human beings know it would resume; instead, they found that death will not resume any time too soon, that Persephone the goddess has forgotten all that is good about humanity and her fellow gods and goddesses, and that Death himself is in major danger due to the nature of how Persephone has changed.

So, will Percy and Beltain be able to bring Persephone back to herself before she completely rends the world asunder? If not, will death as we know it ever return to Europe and beyond? And without Persephone, how can the regular life cycle be restarted?

For that matter, what will happen to all of those places that mysteriously went missing in the previous two books?

All of those questions, and more besides, will be answered in COBWEB FOREST, but may set off wholly different chains of thought.

Note that we still have the same couples as before to follow in addition to this additional plot-wrinkle, and what happens to them mostly is both life-affirming and heart-rending, something Ms. Nazarian pulls off with aplomb.

For example, the wrap-up of the romance between Infanta Claere Liguon and Marquis Vlau Fiomarre couldn’t have gone better, but there are some hair-raising moments (that I refuse to spoil) before these two find their happily ever after.

And while I was never in doubt that Percy and Beltain would end up together, for a while it looked like they’d end up dead and apart . . . and the pathos there was palpable.

As with the two previous books COBWEB BRIDE and COBWEB EMPIRE, COBWEB FOREST is a well-done dark fantasy with some intriguing plot twists — some which I didn’t expect whatsoever. The romances are excellent, and the main plot of how to restore the goddess Persephone back to the goddess of Spring was particularly well-thought-out.

So there’s action. Romance. Plot-twists. Excitement. Lots of death and dismemberment, if you’re into that sort of thing . . . and an uplifting finale that would charm the socks off a dead person (if said dead person still had socks).

The only drawback — and it is incredibly minor — is a few odd things with regards to the plot. For example, Hades (as Death) tells Beltain early on not to separate from Percy no matter what — not to let Percy out of his sight, ever. But when Beltain does this, no additional, appreciable harm comes to Percy . . . in other words, there isn’t anything else that happens to Percy because Beltain isn’t beside her (rather than three steps to her rear, or having gone through a world gate first, or whatever).

Of course, Percy is in danger from the beginning of this book until its gentle wrap-up. So maybe that’s why it truly didn’t matter where Beltain was in the cosmic scheme of things. But to mention that as something Beltain definitely must do, or there will be consequences, and then to have no consequences whatsoever that are directly because of Beltain not being right next to Percy seemed a bit unnecessary.

As I said, that’s an incredibly minor drawback, as it didn’t impact my enjoyment of COBWEB FOREST whatsoever.

Bottom line? COBWEB FOREST is an exceptionally fine book which conclusively ended the story of Percy and Beltain, and I enjoyed it immensely. (But if Ms. Nazarian can figure out how to write a sequel to this that follows up with Percy and Beltain as they make their way in Europe, I’d enjoy reading it. Guaranteed.)

Grades:

COBWEB FOREST: A.

Cobweb Bride series: A

— reviewed by Barb

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