I’ve never been a fan of shifter romances - I’ve never read one, although I’m aware there’s a huge trove (pit?) of such material on litererotica, and on Amazon. There’s also the Twilight series, but the less said about that, the better.
I am, however, quite into fairy tales. Who wouldn’t be? You’re read them as bedtime stories as a child, and enjoyed them growing up. As an early teen, I was given a copy of Grimm’s, which contained tales scraped from across Germany, and which were darker, meaner, and harder edged than the ones you’d tell to small children.
After The Forest is set 15 years after the conclusion of the classic Hansel and Gretal fairy tales, during a break in the wars of religion - and yes, it is a shifter romance. While this is technically a spoiler, it’s immediately obvious who is secretly a bear as soon as you meet them. There are other shifters, too, although no-one has sex with them, so…
After The Forest combines multiple fairy tales, and grounds them in the reality of 17th century Protestant Germany. There’s grinding poverty, taxes, debt, misery, mercenaries, feudal lords, gambling, and exploitation.
Into that, drop Greta, our red-haired (red is the devils colour) main character, who still lives with the stigma of being the girl who, at seven years old, burned an old woman alive in her own oven.
As you go through the book, you’ll recognise references to Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. These are all alluded to, and even when they intersect with the main story, they don’t dominate. This is firmly a story about Greta.
I really enjoyed reading After The Forest, and will be keeping my eye out for more from Kell Woods in future.