Okay, I totally gave into the hype on this one and I’m so glad I did. This book is as beautiful inside as it is outside, and I don’t know whether the proof or the finished copy is prettier! Both are just so gorgeous. I was so excited to be invited onto the blog tour for this fantasy debut.
Rating: 4 stars!
Thanks to Del Rey for the ARC of this book. It has not affected my honest review.
Content Warnings: graphic gore, torture, self-harm (including self-amputation), graphic animal death (not pets), antisemitism, genocide and ethnic cleansing, physical abuse by parental figures, vomiting.
About the book:
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.
What did I think?
I actually was able to listen to an advanced audiobook edition of this book, and I thoroughly recommend it if you like audiobooks. The narrator, Saskia Maarleveld, does an excellent job with all the characters and is very easy to listen to. The Wolf and the Woodsman started a little slow, to be perfectly honest. I was a little confused in the early chapters, and found myself slowing the audiobook down so that I could keep track of what was happening. Despite that confusion I was still very firmly enjoying it. The slow start gave the romance a real chance to develop naturally and shine. And when this book picked up? It picked up.
One of the most gorgeous things in this book is the way the folklore elements were threaded throughout. Combined with Ava Reid’s beautiful writing style, it made for a lyrical and potent read that felt steeped in magic. Even the graphic gore felt somehow poetic and I know I’ll be reading anything else that Ava Reid comes out with – her writing is just so wonderfully readable and they created characters that felt real. I loved the slow burn relationship between Évike and Gáspár. The isolation that their journey presses upon them makes them rely on each other despite their ingrained animosity, and I loved watching the complex way they have to learn to live with each other. There’s a scene in particular that actually HAUNTS me in its intense beauty, and despite being aro (and kind of ace), it was so hot that I literally had to sit down for a minute. That is rare for me, as I don’t usually get much interested in m/f romance.
I couldn’t review this book without mentioning the way that it approaches the complexity of nation building and cultural identity, with Évike struggling to balance the facets of her heritage that she’s never known with the facets she does. Ava Reid covers the violence and intricacies of ethnic cleansing and persecution in a fantasy world, specifically focusing on the history of Jewish persecution. It was raw and painful to read at points, and all the more powerful for it.
Release Date: 8 June 2021