Zo and the Forest of Secrets by Alake Pilgrim, Published by Knights Of.

‘A Story don’t start where we tell it you know…’

Perfect for fans of Fireborn, The Crooked Oak Mysteries and Dreadwood, Alake Pilgrim weaves an intricate web of mutant creatures, fantastical gifts, folklore, friendship and adventure. This felt like Christopher Edge meets the Caribbean and as with Escape Room, there was many a moment in The Forest of Secrets when my mind was well and truly blown! It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s imagined and there are some absolutely nail-biting pursuits and escapes too!

Allow yourself to be swept away to rural Trinidad for sun, sea and sci-fi futuristic fantasy! This is the trek of a lifetime through forests and hills, over rocky outcrops and along rushing rivers. I could almost feel the unbearable heat of the sun beat down on me as I journeyed through sticky mangrove swamps and the cool sea breeze of the bay. But where there is beauty there is also danger. What is hiding in the forest…lurking in caves below ground…what lies beneath the murky waters…? Zo must unravel the secrets of the forest before she is lost in them forever…

Zo’s parents have separated and she has been forced to move to the island with her mother, stepdad Jake and baby Tayo, AKA ‘The Terror’. Zo resents having to leave her home, her dad and most of all, she resents the attention Tayo and Jake command from her mother. So Zo hatches a plan, a plan to run away.

She’s got it all worked out, she’ll not go far, only staying away for a few days, long enough for the alarm to be raised and a search party sent out to look for her – long enough for her dad to fly in and join the rescue team. Taught well by her beloved Da in survival skills, Zo has gathered supplies and seizes her opportunity to evade old Ms Kofi, her keeper whilst on the island.

But it’s not long into her expedition when things take an unexpected turn. As she journeys through the once-familiar forest, terrifying creatures and warped visions begin to emerge. Dazed and dehydrated with a beast on her heels, Zo strays far from the beaten track. With only her knowledge of physical geography to guide her, she follows the flow of a small stream, hoping it will be a tributary to a larger river that will lead her to the coast. When she eventually meets the gushing waters she spots a boy, flailing and and struggling against the current.

Zo fights against the powerful waters and manages to drag him, surely drowned to the shore. But when her skin touches that of the unconscious boy, she is plunged into a vision of his memories so real, it is like she is actually there. When Adri, as she now knows him to be called comes round, the pair must embark on the wildest and most deadly trip of their lives. Things are not as they seem – be ready for some futuristic twists. Could a mysterious abandoned research facility hold answers…?

There absolutely HAS to be a sequel to this as there are clearly many more secrets yet to be revealed. We absolutely need more books for Middle Grade readers set in Africa and the Caribbean on our shelves. I thoroughly enjoyed the island setting with its diverse cultural backgrounds and the camaraderie that develops between it’s characters, Zo Joseph a black girl and Adri Khan a South Asian boy. The atmosphere in the forest was palpable – a feast for the senses! This is an incredible debut and I can’t wait see what pulse-pounding adventure Alake Pilgrim pens next – definitely one to watch!

Thank you to Knights Of and Anabelle at edpr for sending me a gorgeous proof copy of this wonderful book.

Zo and the Forest of Secrets publishes on the 2nd June

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