The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid – REVIEW
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 received a complimentary copy of this book from Del Rey.
Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
“The trees have to be tied down by sunset. When the Woodsmen come, they always try to run.”
The Wolf and the Woodsman is a fantasy inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology. Stories are an important element of the narrative and the author seamlessly weaves them in to enhance the reader’s experience. They have the power to comfort, educate, inspire, frighten and so much more. They also form the rich history of the communities from which the book’s characters come.
“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.”
Évike is twenty five years old and the only woman with no magic in her village. As an outsider, she is sacrificed by the village when the Woodsmen come calling for yet another girl with magic to be used by their king. After a horrific attack, only Évike and a Woodsman who turns out to be Prince Gáspár survive and must form an uneasy alliance if they want to survive the monsters that surround them and the wider threats to their very way of life.
“What would you have me do?” he asks. “You have already ruined me.”
I absolutely adored the enemies-to-lovers relationship between these two characters. They both harbour a strong distrust and hatred for the other yet slowly come to reach a fragile understanding. As war threatens the borders of the kingdom, strife is also growing within the city itself with religious tensions between the new faith and the older ways increasing. Nándor is Gáspárs half-brother and a pious fanatic who wants to ethnically cleanse the kingdom through the genocide of pagans and the forced expulsion of the Yehuli. There are some awful and sickening moments so please check out the content warnings if necessary.
“I’d rather die with a blade in my hand, or at least with fire in my heart, than live as the shadow of a shadow.”
The descriptive imagery lends the narrative a lyrical prose that reads like a fairytale. As Gáspár and Évike travel further and further, the beautiful settings are vividly rendered in rich detail. The action builds in the last quarter and becomes much faster paced as everything begin to unravel. I think this is a standalone but there’s definitely room for more stories in this world and I would love to revisit the characters one day. The Wolf and the Woodsman is a folkloric fantasy that will appeal to both fantasy fans and lovers of atmospheric stories. P.S. there’s a very helpful pronunciation guide at the back of the book!