Carlos' sister, Maria, has run away from home. He thinks she may have gone to the house of the woman who is rumored around town to be a witch. Carlos never believed the stories though. He always thought she was just a crazy old woman until he goes looking for Maria and finds a forest of carved trees behind the woman's house that look exactly like all the people in his town. He quickly learns that the witch, Nedra, has been using the statues to control everyone and she wants Maria to be her apprentice. Nedra insists that she's only keeping everyone safe from harm, but Carlos sees the truth: she's taken away their free will. When Nedra makes everyone but Carlos forget about Maria, it's up to Carlos to find a way to free Maria before it's too late.
In The Carved Forest, the sister of our young protagonist, Carlos, has run away from home to live and train with a local witch. Despite stories around town about the woman being a witch, Carlos always believed she was simply a crazy old lady, until the day he went looking for his sister. Then he finds a forest of trees behind the witch's house that have been cut and carved into lifelike images of all the people he knows, including himself. The witch uses these wooden dopplegangers to control everyone in town. In her mind, she's simply keeping them all safe from harm, but she is also taking away their free will so Carlos must make her see the error of her ways in order to get his sister back.
I really enjoyed this short story. It was a very easy but engaging read with a positive, uplifting ending. What I liked the most about it were the messages it contained. There is a strong thread about the importance of family. Carlos loved his sister, Maria, enough to go after her when she ran away and he didn't give up until he'd found a way to free her from the witch even though Maria wasn't very happy about it. He was also very distressed when the witch made everyone but himself forget about his sister's existence. The other positive message was about the importance of moving on after the death of a loved one and allowing them to rest in peace, which in turn will also allow the pain of those still living to gradually fade. I liked how Carlos was able to not only free his sister, but also free the witch from her own pain and make her see reason. I love to see stories, especially ones aimed at young adults, teaching an important truth or two while also entertaining, and The Carved Forest definitely fit that bill. It was my first read by Tim Pratt, but it has most certainly left me open to trying more of his work. The Carved Forest can be found in the anthology Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron.
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