The Wolf and the Woodsman
- Author: Ava Reid
- Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
- Publication Date: June 8, 2021
- Publisher: Del Rey
Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book. I am offering my honest opinion voluntarily.
CONTENT WARNING: bullying, gore, death, self-harm, blood, religious bigotry, antisemitism, death of animals
In the vein of Naomi Novik’s New York Times bestseller Spinning Silver and Katherine Arden’s national bestseller The Bear and the Nightingale, this unforgettable debut— inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology—follows a young pagan woman with hidden powers and a one-eyed captain of the Woodsmen as they form an unlikely alliance to thwart a tyrant.
In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.
But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.
As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all.
I heard a lot of chatter about this book, so it isn’t surprising that I jumped this book to the front of my TBR. Also, I wanted to include this in my Jewish American Heritage Month reading, and I have absolutely no regrets about it. Even if my NetGalley deadlines are suffering a little for this. It was worth it.
The story was a little slow moving at first. I liked Évike’s character from the start, especially since there’s something about an underdog that I can’t help but love. She’s an outcast with no magic in a village that basically worships magic, relies on it for survival. My heart broke for her right away, but she’s clearly a tough character, which is something that I love.
Gáspár was a character that took me a little more time to warm up to. He’s a lot more closed off and hard to read, but since the story is told from Évike’s POV, we don’t really find out what’s going on in his head until he says it out loud (or shows it). He did grow on me over the course of the book, morphing from a brutal, cold Woodsman to an actual human with his own struggles and goals, and we get to see the lengths that he’s willing to go to create positive changes in the kingdom that he loves.
The writing was absolutely stunning. For a good portion of the beginning of the book, the two characters are traveling through sparsely populated areas of the country. The way that the surroundings, and especially sunsets are described are so incredibly vivid. I’ve never really seen writing that was this evocative and enchanting, making me feel as if I was right there with the characters, experiencing every single thing with them. While the traveling could have gotten boring, the writing, action scenes, and tension between the characters kept me interested throughout the book.
Jewish culture and traditions are depicted throughout the story, which was very welcomed. I loved seeing how some things haven’t changed at all — how we celebrate holidays, our focus on education, and the welcoming nature of my people. However, it broke my heart to see how antisemitism continues to persist. The pressure to exert faith-based control hit very close to home — the Patrifaith’s desire to stamp out paganism and the Yehuli is a mirror of Christianity through the ages, but with a fantasy spin.
Overall, I loved how the story unfolded. The action, the romance, the magic system, and the complex bonds that develop between the characters definitely pushed this story right to the top of my list of books I’ve fallen in love with this year. Beware though, this story has a lot of gore, including self-mutilation. It’s a great read, but it can be a little tough at times. If you can handle the content warnings, it’s definitely worth it.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 11
Categories: Book Review
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