Beware the Leshy

Tree spirits are ancient demigods that symbolize immortality and/or fertility. They protect the forest (and the animals within the forest) and are ubiquitous in every culture around the world. 

Usually benevolent, tree spirits can embody malevolent characteristics as well. The Enchanted Elder, for example, has earned a sinister reputation over the years. Today it’s become an emblem of death and sorrow. 

Like everything old and inexplicable, tree spirits have been anthropomorphized again and again in folk tales and fairy tales—usually they take the shape of a nymph, a goddess or Totoro-like beast. Whatever form they take, however, their message seems to be the same: heed the forest or else!

Lord of the Forest, the latest effort from author Chris McInally, takes place a millennium after the birth of Christ. That’s a long time ago, but even back then, tree spirits were called “Old Ones.” Men respected and feared them in equal degree. 

Things get hot when a small band of dispirited soldiers from Kievan Rus (a medieval Slavic confederacy) seek refuge in an inhospitable forest. One by one the squad is picked off in a gruesome and organic manner. They instinctively know they’re being stalked by a guardian of the forest—a leshy.

To stay alive, Danil (the leader of the pack) is compelled to to confront three separate adversaries: a surprisingly fierce match against a brother-in-arms, a climatic bash against the leshy and the post-climatic confrontation with the leshy’s wife. Each of these fights is terrific. The author’s writing is strong and clear and enfolds in an easy-to-follow sequential narrative. 

And finally, the author doesn’t withhold any details about his monster. By the end of the book, the reader knows exactly what the mighty leshy looks like. It stood taller than any man, writes McInally, “at least eight feet tall.” Its long, muscular arms hung at either side of a sculpted, humanoid torso. It had a pale face with a pair of blazing green eyes like liquid jade. A thin set of lips twitched and quivered before opening impossibly wide to reveal a nest of glistening, needle-like teeth. Rising from the monster’s forehead were a pair of antlers, strange, twisted, horned extensions that branched off in multiple directions. 

A master of declarative writing, McInally adds one last important detail about the leshy. Its skin was pale and waxy like a cross between flesh and wood, he says. “It was an ugly fucker.”

[Lord of the Forest / By Chris McInally / First Printing: June 2022]