Title: The Wolf and the Woodsman
Author: Ava Reid
Publisher: Del Rey
Page Count: 448
Publication Date: 2021
Category/Genre: Fiction, Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Retelling, Mythology/folklore, Romance, Magic
Good Reads Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.60)
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4)
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.
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.
The Wolf and the Woodsman is a fantasy novel rooted in history and myth based on Jewish and Hungarian folklore. It creates a rich and complex picture of cultural identity and bloodlines.
On the surface, this book is a dark fairytale-esq with an enemies-to-lovers trope and a castoff protagonist-turned-heroine.
“If you stare long enough into the darkness of the forest, eventually something will stare right back.”
But there is a much sharper edge to it than that.
This story explores nation-building with the aggressive and constant propaganda that oppresses the marginalized groups and has religious persecution, cultural genocide, and ethnic cleansing at the core.
“All that talk of quiet obedience is for their benefit, not yours. They don’t have to go to the effort of striking you down if you’re already on your knees.”
Reid does an amazing job at weaving in the folklore stories through the plot as our characters travel through the lands and explore their own limits, beliefs, and circumstances.
The writing is gorgeous and atmospheric. The story is haunting and the words are powerful — perfectly reflective of the importance of both stories and words in both the novel and our lives.
This is not a young adult fantasy book and has many trigger warnings such as gore, self-harm, mutilation, antisemitism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, torture, and body harm as a magic system.