The war is over, and the Prince has pardoned everyone who rebelled. But what will happen to those who continue to harm the innocent?

When the small town of Nerthach receives news of the pardon, the residents have mixed feelings. Haydn, a former rebel, spurns the pardon, believing that he and the rest of the bandits pillaging his village deserve punishment. He is willing to endure the penalty himself as long as the others are retributed for their ongoing crimes. Haydn is determined to find a way to catch and judge those marauders with the help of his stepsister, Gorawen.

Hope Ann’s third book in her Legends of Light series, Shadows of the Hersweald, is a combination of a Hansel and Gretel retelling and Christian allegory. It effortlessly melds the fairy tale aspect with a biblical message of redemption and mercy. Set in a medieval fantasy world, the tale builds on the experiences of previous characters in the series while holding to a unique, standalone plot.

Unlike many YA fantasy novels, a romantic relationship does not take center stage. Instead, the tale follows step-siblings Haydn and Gorawen as they battle the evil in their town and learn to accept the Prince’s mercy.

It truly is a creative rendition of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. The evil in Haydn and Gorawen’s world far exceeds a nefarious witch hoping to steal their lives. However, the story still comprises most of the fairy tale’s important attributes.

The allegory in particular was fascinating. Like many Christian allegories, it features an individual struggling to come to terms with the grace God offers. However, the individual in Shadows of the Hersweald does not struggle with God’s existence, ability, or willingness to forgive. Rather, he grapples with the unfairness of it. He realizes he is at fault and deserves death, yet he refuses to accept mercy, worrying that others who are as guilty as or guiltier than him will go free. It is a perplexing situation.

Another aspect of this book that is unusual to the genre is the seamless blending of allegory and fairy tale. The main characters and immediate plot are derived from the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, including the trademark pair of siblings and the trail of pebbles through the dark woods. Yet the character’s internal turmoil and the events within the kingdom fit more with the allegory, as described above. And in the nature of retelling, the author adds twists to the story, such as the magical item that causes conflict.

Shadows of the Hersweald is an intriguing novella teen readers will enjoy. It provides an inspiring message that touches on topics frequently left unmentioned in Christian writing.