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Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite
Wicked Forest by E.J. Bennett is the first book in the Hidden World series. Crystal's whole life is planned out for her. She wants the chance to fall in love with someone she chooses, not the arranged marriage her parents have chosen for her. All she desires is a chance to leave the coven and have a life of her own. She finally gets a date with her long time crush, Drake, until her mother decides to marry her off after her eighteenth birthday to Levi Carmichael from a family rumored to have murdered witches and stolen their powers. Crystal refuses to let her mother rule her life any further so, when a Halloween party takes place in the woods she's been forbidden to enter, she can't wait to go. The party is quickly disrupted when she finds herself in another world with Drake and Levi in tow. As she journeys through a dangerous world filled with monsters, she uncovers shocking coven secrets.
Wicked Forest has a strong fairy tale tone with elements straight from a fairy tale with the arranged marriage, wicked mother, forbidden woods, and “monster” of a fiance. This tone is ironic because Crystal dreams of having a fairy tale love and idealizes a normal life. Crystal is a character that really resonates in her struggle against her mother's control and her longing to find herself. She wants a life of her own with love and friends, to no longer be lonely. She's rebellious and strong-willed in a society that is based on old-fashioned traditions. Her mother's push for power puts her as the direct antagonist to Crystal. She stifles and controls her daughter without caring much for Crystal's feelings.
E.J. Bennett contrasts the life Crystal has and the one she wants in a complex way. In Crystal's coven, her power is viewed as their saving grace, but she despises everything about the way the coven does things. At school she's viewed as “different” and is isolated from the other students, but all she wants is to fit in with them and find a place for herself. She wants to have something normal and not magical. Belonging is a common thread for multiple characters, each having a goal that's not necessarily in the best interests of the others. Wicked Forest is a young adult fantasy adventure with magic and curses, first love and rebellion.