I have been sitting in front of my computer for days trying to put into words how this book made me feel. All of my incoherent thoughts just swimming around my head and unfortunately, I have no way of getting them down nicely on paper. So, instead, here is my incoherent screaming about The Wolf and the Woodsman. Thank you so so much to Harper Voyager for the ARC!
I received an ARC of The Wolf and the Woodsman from Harper Voyager in exchange for an honest review. This is a spoiler free, honest review and all thoughts and feelings are my own.
The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid
Release Date: June 8, 2021
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Historical Fantasy
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.
Have you ever read a book and suddenly there’s no more words to read? And you’re panicking because you swore there was another 100 pages but now the book is over and you have to close it or just stare at the last page?
Yeah, that was me with this book.
I was absolutely devastated when I finished reading this. I kept wondering “where are the rest of the words? where are the pages?” as I scrambled to find more words, more pages, more story. That’s how good this book is. I was so absorbed into the story and into what was going on that my brain couldn’t even recognize that it was over. Even though the ending wrapped up nicely, I wanted more, and there wasn’t anymore to read.
Going back to the beginning though … I am obsessed. This book opens with Évike in her village, talking with her adopted mother. She recounts how she’s been the black sheep of her home ever since they realized she was without any magic. She could not light fires, or heal, or see the future. Évike was, all in all, useless to the rest of the village, and that made her a target. Especially when the Woodsmen come to claim another seer for the king and instead of sending Katalin, they send Évike instead.
This is not a happy book. In fact, this book shows a lot of the real life BS that women still have to go through today, especially women who are of different ethnicities or religions from the majority. Évike is pagan and she worships the old gods, but the kingdom her village is located in worships another religion, one that praises a singular God instead of many. And another small community that resides are the Yehuli, who also worship a singular god, but in a completely different way.
And this causes some problems. The Woodsmen are not kind to Évike nor do they care much about getting her to the king unharmed, though they are tasked with getting her there alive. One of the Woodsmen doesn’t care about either, as he believes that the bastard prince Nandor is the rightful heir to the throne, instead of Gáspár, who is the birthright prince. And here we have our set up.
I knew that the Captain of the Woodsmen was Prince Gáspár, but I didn’t realize he was nearly stone cold heartless. I didn’t like Gáspár at first, like at all. I thought he was a hypocrite and a jerk. And Évike feels the same way – he’s a heartless jerk who feels he can serve punishments as he sees fit, even if it means cutting off the arm of his comrade for going against the King’s orders.
But once Évike and Gáspár are alone, stuck in the woods together, it’s clear that Gáspár isn’t entirely a heartless monster. And that’s when I kinda started to love him…
I mean, come on, enemies to lovers is an amazing trope! But enemy soldier, who’s also a prince, forced to take me from my home until we’re trapped in the woods together and have to form an unlikely alliance to take down his bastard brother from stealing the throne and starting to fall in love is kind of EVERYTHING. And it was. Once the book started moving towards that direction, I was hooked! And watching them start to fall for each other was everything.
Gáspár is like an ice sculpture. He’s hard and impenetrable on the outside, until you start to melt him a little, and then he just melts. And oh, he melted for Évike! Their banter was everything and every time they interacted during their journey North I just kind of smiled stupidly to myself. Their mouths said some pretty nasty things, but their minds thought some pretty nasty things, wink wink!
But one thing I loved more than the enemies to lovers, were the Yehuli. Modeled after Jews, the Yehuli have similar customs, stories, and similar circumstances in history. While it made me sad to think that these things really happened to people, my heart was glowing from seeing my religion and Jewish stories on the page. And I could relate with Évike so much as someone with mixed heritage. Évike is both pagan and Yehuli, her father having come along with the Woodsmen to collect taxes and met her mother. Évike feels torn between the two sides of her and even goes as far as thinking that embracing one part of her is denouncing another.
And that is something I absolutely relate to. Being of mixed heritage, one part of that being Jewish, I never felt like I fit into one place. I wasn’t Jewish enough or I wasn’t Finnish enough, or I was too much of one thing and not the other. Taking the dive into Judaism and learning more about the religion and some of the cultural aspects made me feel more whole, but it also made me feel like I was missing something.
But I could relate to Évike so much as she learned more about her Yehuli heritage and while she felt more connected to her father, she also felt less connected to her mother and the village she grew up in. I honestly felt so connected with her during that time and while it made me really happy to see her find that new connection, I also felt awful for the fact that she was feeling like me: lost and with nowhere to truly fit in.
There’s so much I could talk about this book. I could honestly go on and on about how much I loved it and how I wanted it to be longer. Like, I need another 100 pages. Seeing the mix of history and mythology was beautiful, even if the truth behind it is not, and I was hooked from the first chapter. One thing I wished there was more of though, were moments between Évike and Gáspár once they get to the Capital. While we see him sometimes, it’s usually when Nandor appears and that guy always put me in a bad mood. I honestly hated his character (as I was supposed to) and I always wanted him to leave so Évike and Gáspár could be together … alone. I wanted to see more of those quiet, soft moments between them. While I’m happy with how their relationship progressed, I think I just wanted more of it.
And more of the story. And more of everything really. This book is fantastic and I’m not going to continue to rattle on anymore because if you haven’t preordered a copy after reading that first paragraph, then you need to go do it now! Seriously, you will not regret it! This has become an immediate favorite book of mine, probably for the entire year, and just be warned I will probably never shut up about it.
So be sure to read it when it comes out on June 8th so I can write a spoiler filled review!
You can preorder the book from any of these sites listed below:
If you’re interested in reading more of my adult fantasy reviews, check out these recent ones!