After getting to know her father while living and working at different Renaissance Faires—and coming to terms with her legacy as a Tree Shepherd and her life as a half-elf—Keelie Heartwood is finally in the Dread Forest. She isn't particularly happy there—most of the other elves are huge anti-human bigots, it turns out that her romance with Sean is capital-D Doomed, and she doesn't get along with her grandmother.
Keelie's personal life isn't the only problem—there's some seriously dark magic about and humans are beginning to invade the forest. And there's an old family secret that may be at the heart of all the conflict. It's up to Keelie to figure it all out—and the only friends she has are an obnoxious cat, an extremely high-maintenance princess tree, and her ex-enemy (or is she?) the Queen of All Mean Girls, the elf Elia.
I adored the first book in the series—I loved the fish-out-of-water-Keelie-dropped-from-LA-life-to-living-at-a-Renaissance-Faire storyline, and I loved that while the storyline itself wasn't at all new, the setting was, and the details about the setting rang true. The second book, I enjoyed, but it didn't get me super-excited the way that the first book did.
This one... this one didn't really do it for me. Part of that, I think, is because I loved the Ren Faire setting so much, and this book didn't have that. Which really surprised me, because part of the reason the second book wasn't as exciting for me was because it felt like a retread of the first. So I would've thought that a different setting would have been a plus.
But there was more. I didn't find Keelie as likable as before—while I appreciated her difficult position, I felt that quite often in this one she acted like, well, a big jerk. And that maybe expecting a completely different culture to conform to (or even understand) her expectations and beliefs without bothering to acknowledge theirs was a bit selfish and obnoxious. (But that may partly be a difference in maturity. Because I am SO MATURE.)
Also, the writing didn't feel as strong—the author(s) did a lot of telling, rather than showing, and the dialogue, in a lot of cases, felt stilted and unrealistic. That second issue could be chalked up to Elves and Old Trees speaking more formally than humans, but despite the reasoning behind it, I still felt that a lot of it read like Stereotypical Fantasy Dialogue. And while I didn't take issue with the environmental message, it felt heavy-handed and pushy.
My last issue is more personal and a big SPOILER. So skip the next paragraph if you'd like to avoid. Just know that while it didn't really work for me, I think that for fans of the trilogy, it's definitely worth a try. But reading the first book as a stand-alone could work, too. Oh, and obviously, as it's the third book in the trilogy, The Secret of the Dread Forest wraps up this story arc. But, for series fans, it isn't the end of Keelie & Co.—there is a second trilogy in the works: Scions of Shadow. I don't know if it'll focus on the same subject as my spoiler or on something different. I'm curious, but I'm still not sure if I'll pick it up or not.
BEGIN SPOILER. A vampire character was introduced. And while it certainly could have been planned from the beginning, it was still hard not to wonder—especially with Keelie's crack about Edward Cullen—if it was done in an attempt to bring in the Twihards. Obviously, it may have been totally unrelated, and regardless, maybe it doesn't even matter, but I couldn't help thinking about it, and once something like that starts zipping around in my brain, I get all distractable. END SPOILER.
Book Source: Review copy from the publisher.