For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten
The first daughter is for the Throne.
The second daughter is for the Wolf.
For fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale comes a dark fantasy novel about a young woman who must be sacrificed to the legendary Wolf of the Wood to save her kingdom. But not all legends are true, and the Wolf isn’t the only danger lurking in the Wilderwood.
As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.
Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.
But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood-and her world-whole.
Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for sending me an advanced copy for review.
Trigger Warnings: self-harm for magic use (cutting), parental neglect/emotional abuse, mentions of physical symptoms that might be triggering to those with emetophobia, anxiety/panic attacks, parental death, gore, mild audio/visual hallucinations, religious abuse.
This book is not a hate-to-love story, but my relationship with For The Wolf could undoubtedly be described as such.
My initial interest in this book stemmed from a variety of things. The woodsy cover that so reminded me of red riding hood, the author describing her book like a feral romantic fantasy brimming with elements of both fairy tale and horror. All of that sounded delicious. It is wrapped up, bound, and rooted in romance and horrific fairy tales. This is very much a Beauty & the Beast story than anything. Misconceptions and all.
The issue, at least in the beginning, really came down to pacing and prose. I struggled in the beginning and for about 200 pages too. That’s a lot, and I’m still a little surprised I kept reading, but I trust Orbit to give me a good story. It’s not often that I don’t get a good story from them. They almost perfectly align with what I like to read. So I will say that if you’re like me, and you’re struggling in the beginning but still finding yourself endeared with that feral romance of the woods and its characters, I do recommend you keep reading if you find yourself interested in some things. But as always, know yourself as a reader. This is not a book to be read like candy. It’s a savory meal that takes its time.
I liked that the descriptions blended the romantic with the horror. This is a book that makes sinister religious cults and the deep woods seductive. I don’t often see adult Science Fiction & Fantasy imprints blending romance and fantasy, or even horror and romance. It’s only been recent that Tor, Harper Voyager, and now Orbit have been bringing their romance game. I liked that. That endeared me. It kept me wanting to stick it out.
On that note, I’d like to remind readers that this is not a Young Adult fantasy. One of the greatest tragedies in the community is conflating writing style and marginalized genders with Young Adult. Readers don’t decide to shelve an adult Fantasy novel as Young Adult due to style. There are many writing styles in the adult market, from Fantasy to Romance. From R.F. Kuang to K.S. Villoso to Ava Reid; all have different writing styles. It’s essential to pay attention to how the market is changing. Tor, Harper Voyager, and now Orbit are publishing Romance/Fantasy blends. This book is one of them. Women writing adult fiction do not suddenly become Young Adult Authors because of their style of writing. The prose feels very much like it’s taking from both Romance and Fantasy, not Young Adult.
I’ll rip off the band-aid. I don’t think readers should have to read so far to feel their interest in the whole story. That’s why this isn’t a higher rating, as much as I’d like it to be. This book had some pacing problems that I couldn’t overlook. Not only that, but I found the prose difficult to sink into. It dragged quite a lot, not to mention being a little on the repetitive side. Knowing that this book did not maintain my full and obsessed interest the entire way through is something people need to know before going into this book. There does not have to be action scenes consistently throughout, but the prose should be captivating me even when the dramatics are not intensified.
But as I read, I found myself falling for Hannah Whitten’s debut, For The Wolf. Without even noticing, I had latched myself onto the heroine, a twenty-year-old woman thrown into the Wilderwood as a sacrifice by her people, and instead of finding an unkind and vicious being, she finds a sweet but scruffy man ready to burn everything for her. Eammon, the wolf, is a monster to Red’s people. But things unravel, roots brought up, and truths reveal that mythological stories and the tales told to the Second daughter may not be as accurate as Red thought. She soon finds that the curse of the Wilderwood, and the man in the wood that tries to keep its bloodlust at bay, is hiding his soft wolf-shaped heart behind a sharp and severe façade.
That blend of religious fanaticism and the people fighting against the system just get me. I go for anything with a cult and satanic vibes, and this certainly feels like that. The priests, the red veils, the candles, and the hope they place on the old Kings buried deep within the woods. Then there’s the Wilderwood. The white trees which the Wolf must keep at bay with his blood, the gloom and doom of the forest, and the living abode decorated with moss and greens. Everything feels claustrophobic, walls caving in where there’s only the mist, old wood, and witchy aesthetics. Those tight corners make for some excellent chemistry and character interactions. I could feel the tension in the bedroom, in the library; every room felt like it ached to have the characters open up and just smoosh their faces together.
In the end, Hannah Whitten surprised me with how much I grew on her forest, on the characters, and the romance. I didn’t expect to like it since this book had such a rough start. And, I still maintain that some things are repeated a little too frequently, the beginning drags, and it’s relatively clear to me that this book has some pacing issues. Romance readers will recognize tropes most familiar in that genre. This is a book for Romance readers that are also Fantasy readers through and through. This book acknowledges those of us that are readers of both and the desire for more blends between Romance and Fantasy.
This is best for those of us that like the romance and the fantastic to be feral, sweet, and trope-tastic.