Under the watchful eye of the Mother Shrine, twelve-year-old Wisp ekes out a simple, but challenging life with Dad, foraging for food and losing herself in old books from the world that came before. She loves the Endless Forest ― except when the Tree Walkers come for her.
In ages past, the great rain of fire and ash destroyed the Earth, wiping out the ancients and everything they had made. Nature has reclaimed much since then, spreading out in a vast forest full of wonder and dread. Ever in fear of being taken away, she follows Dad’s rules without question while learning to survive off the land.
No longer a small child, she accompanies Dad on one of his treks, her first time more than a few steps away from the cabin. A day exploring with him is the happiest time of her life, but joy is short-lived.
A monster follows them home.
Safe in her Haven, she hides while Dad goes outside to confront the beast. She wakes alone the next morning, and waits. Alas, her hope of his return fades with the daylight. Desperate, she breaks his strictest rule and goes outside alone. Not far from the cabin, she discovers his rifle abandoned next to the monster’s strange footprints.
Afraid but determined, Wisp sets off on her own into the Endless Forest to find Dad ― before the Tree Walkers catch her.
Cox’s post-apocalyptic world is a convincing blend of eerie ruins and human survival. The latter takes many forms. On one end of the spectrum we have Wisp and her father’s reclusive existence in the forest while on the other end are the marauders, immoral people who raid the peaceful communities that make up the middle ground of existence.
Wisp is one of the most believable characters I’ve encountered in a long time. This girl has an amazingly balanced but complex psychological make-up. Wisp is intelligent and capable with top-notch survival skills yet charmingly naïve. She’s also oddly ignorant in areas such as the physical differences between boys/men and girls/women. I thought it strange that her father hadn’t discussed such basic things with her, more so since she’s twelve years old and likely to start her menses sometime soon. Then again, there’s something not quite right about her father. These gaps in her knowledge and her tendency to refer to urine as bad water and faeces as ngh make her seem a lot younger than she is.
Wisp’s journey is an incredible undertaking with the odds stacked against her right from the start. The story is engaging throughout but it becomes more interesting when Wisp is faced with facts that challenge what she knows and force her to question her ideas. This internal conflict eventually brings Wisp to a startling revelation. The denouement is satisfying although The Forest beyond the Earth is the sort of story that you want more of despite the finality of turning the last page. The Forest beyond the Earth is an outstanding novel in the post-apocalyptic genre.