Sometimes all you want to do is read a fairy tale, and believe in the good of the world – that good people can win, and that princesses live happily ever after. But make no mistake, Under the Trees is more than that, it carries an empowering message. It tells us to stop dreaming, and start fighting – and at the same time, it tells us it is okay to accept help. It tells us about young, innocent and instant (why make it complicated when it can be simple and pure?) love. You don’t need a knight in a shining armor, and you don’t need a man to give meaning to your life. But if love comes, it is okay to embrace it.
Most importantly, it tells you there is a light at the end of the tunnel, an escape, a way out. Always. You are in charge of your life and decisions – even if you are a princess with a doomed future.
Under The Trees
Publication date: March 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Desperate to prevent an abusive arranged marriage, Princess Araya flees to a neighboring kingdom, only to land at the mercy of the impulsive Crown Prince Thoredmund, who provides refuge in a secluded forest and teaches her survival skills. Her surprise at the unexpected hold the prince has on her heart mirrors his shock at falling for the one girl he can’t have.
As the young couple’s feelings for each other grow, the fragile alliance between the two kingdoms threatens to break apart. With a vengeful duke and an enraged king fast on their trail, Thor and Araya must decide how much they’re willing to risk for love.
Even if staying together means starting a war.
Before you start reading the review: Enjoy the music that inspired the book.
The strongest point of this book is its simplicity; it’s so easy to read and get into the story. I loved how the plot was kept to the main premise and main conflict, while it incorporated interesting twists at the same time. The romance itself is simple and fast, but it didn’t feel forced and made sense within the context of the narrative. It is the young love between a princess and a prince we are talking about after all – so yes, exchanging glances is enough to spark something. The pureness and simplicity of it all doesn’t make the narrative any shallow, it only accentuates the beauty of what lies deep within the heart of those who fall in love for the first time. If you forgot what it is to fall in love without a reason and wanting to help without receiving anything in exchange, then this book (and its beautiful descriptions) will remind you.
Despite the fairy tale tone, there is a realistic vibe added to it. Behind the Fantasy veil, it’s easy to draw moral messages from the story, and a few concepts are unfortunately very real as well. Araya is a princess who is running from an abusive relationship and from a life she doesn’t want – she is a princess in this story, but in fact, she could be any of us.
I think the only issue I have spotted was how I felt that the core of action started a bit too late, and past the middle of the book. This made the pace feel a bit too slow for me at some points. But of course, I should had trusted Ashley’s direction. While I might have felt that nothing was happening, in fact character development was happening in the background. And the wait is worth it! Once you enter into the main conflict, there’s plenty of action and adventure.
You will get easily attached to the two main characters: Araya and Thor. They are faithful to their beliefs, possessing a beautiful strength to overcome challenges driven by faith and hope. Despite this story being a fairy tale of some sorts, the characters are incredibly realistic.
Araya’s will to fight and to survive, her hope in a better future, is inspiring. She might be a ‘damsel in distress’ but she doesn’t act as one, plus she doesn’t expect to be rescued. Unlike many heroines nowadays, Araya feels real, with a strong mind but aware of her physical limitations. Thor incorporates both characteristics of a dreamy prince (and we all want to read about princes and princesses, and flawless romances from time to time) and of an inspiring leader who cares about others most of all.
The supporting characters are full of surprises, and it’s interesting how your own perception about then changes as you are fed with more information and events that involve them.
The Writing Style
This was in fact the main reason that made me pick this book at first. I was automatically drawn to Ashley Maker’s engaging writing style. As I kept reading, I found out that she is a master of deep PoV, making you feel as if you are inside the character’s head very easily. Her detailed descriptions of emotions, even if not flawless, are very strong.
It’s a type of writing that flows beautifully, without being overwhelming. It fits the tone, the mood, and it’s surprisingly easy to read.
Only thing that I’d probably change would be the use of the passive voice; it could do with a little less. It dramatically slowed the pace down at some points of high tension.