I have a new fantasy book here that easily made my top 10 for the first half of 2021!
Thanks to Del Rey Books for the free early copy in exchange for my honest review
THE WOLF AND THE WOODSMAN – Ava Reid (Released June 8th, 2021)
In the vein of Naomi Novik’s New York Timesbestseller 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.
My Thoughts: 5/5 stars
Originally when I was offered this book I immediately accepted it when I heard “Hungarian history meets Jewish mythology”. I never knew this was what I was missing in my reading and I hope to see more of this included in other fiction books. THE WOLF AND THE WOODSMAN is Ava Reid’s debut adult fantasy novel and I’ll be anxiously waiting for her next book. This is NOT a YA fantasy novel, so please keep that in mind when picking it up because this does deal in heavier topics (woven into the story expertly) and there are certainly some scenes of extreme gore. I’ll include some content warnings from the author at the end of the review.
There are so many things that I could talk about with this book but I don’t want to risk spoiling anything. I will say that the world-building is so well done. A lot of readers sometimes shy away from fantasy novels because they could be too fantasy heavy, which I completely understand. I’m not always a fan of that unless I’m in the mood for it (LOTR, GoT, etc). Personally, I think Reid did a fantastic job giving us the details and information we needed to create this beautiful, magical, dark, and brutal world. What Évike has to endure because she’s different from the rest of her pagan village is nothing short of awful and heart-wrenching. The relationship that slowly builds and develops between Évike and Gáspár didn’t feel rushed in any way and really added to the story.
I was hooked from page one because of the almost lyrical writing and stayed because of how invested I became in the characters. The addition of the Jewish mythology and folklore really enriched the story and will undoubtedly enchant the readers. Why aren’t these in more books? Don’t get me wrong, I love the Greek mythology we get in a lot of novels but this feels like a criminally underused genre inspiration. Normally I don’t get much from books beyond the typical entertainment value, which isn’t bad. However, this book surprised me in more ways than one and will definitely leave an impression. I highly recommend this to anyone that is intrigued by the premise and don’t let the genre deter you from this story. As a standalone, I think that Reid brought everything together well at the end without leaving too many questions and nothing felt forced or rushed. Well done, Ava Reid, and please don’t make me wait too long for your next novel!
Edit – Totally forgot to add the content warnings that the author included.
To quote what she added onto to Goodreads:
[- Gore, including graphic descriptions of dismemberment, amputation, mutilation, and immolation
– Torture, including whipping
– Self-harm, including self-amputation
– Animal death (graphic; the animals are not pets)
– Cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing
– Physical abuse by parents and parental figures
– Graphic descriptions of vomiting.]