Release Date: June 8th 2021 (Harper Voyager)
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.
Trigger Warnings: dismemberment, amputation, mutilation, whipping, self-harm, antisemitism, ethnic cleansing, cultural genocide, physical abuse by parental figures/parents, vomiting, animal death, torture.
Thank you to Harper Voyager for providing an e-arc via Netgalley.
The Wolf and The Woodsman by Ava Reid is like being caught in a wolf’s gaping maw, such an awe-full and wild creature. The writing is old and true, every word and sentence on fire and attended with such feeling. This is a book that will coerce you into its grasp and then eat you alive.
Pitched as having a magic system based on body horror and inspired by Hungary’s violent history towards ethnic groups during the 12th century, such as Jewish or Romani people, The Wolf and The Woodsman by Ava Reid draws a timely and aggressive mark on the Fantasy genre. In a genre thin and near bare of Fantasy novels that center on Jewish inspirations and their culture, Reid refuses to pull punches. Her writing is unflinching and truth-telling in the horrors of religious persecution, ethnic cleansing, and cultural genocide against European religious/ethnic groups.
In Keszi, pagan girls are taken by Woodsmen and brought to Kiràly Szek before the king. He yearns for more of the wolf-girls powers to add to his crown of nails, the source of his power. He believes this power will convince his people to fall in line and allow him a way to understand his foreign enemy’s next move in the war.
When the captain of the Woodsmen comes, it is Évike they collect. A long time ago, they took her mother too. The daughter of a pagan and a Yehuli tax collector, Évike is bullied by the other wolf-girls for being Yehuli, whom they see as betrayers of the land. And with her mother taken, her father disappeared from her life too. All that’s left is a coin in her pocket. Évike leaves with the Woodsman, and along their journey, they face betrayals and monsters. And Gáspár, the Captain, reveals himself to be the disgraced prince after they barely escape with their lives.
Through ice and woods, they travel the land and search for a creature that could be the answer to saving lives from the Patricians’ persecution. As they learn from each other, rage against the enemy thaws into smoldering tension. They face witches made of twigs and sea-smoothed pebbles, godly realms, icy lakes, serial killers, skull-crushing monsters, northern bears, power-hungry kings, and antisemitic brothers.
Stories have power, especially when written by as talented an author as Ava Reid.
With a soft and seamless voice, The Wolf and The Woodsman reads much like old folklore, taking that bite deeper and true. Reid’s prose is so earthy and bloody. The way that bodies in pain, ancient trees, and earth dusted with frost is described reminds me what it is to read a good book. Her writing reflects atrocities, hardships, and the beauty found in life. Reid’s prose is sweet, soft, angry, and ferocious. Such vicious and gorgeous prose that what is horrible becomes beautiful and what is beautiful becomes horrible.
The folklore burns as slow and simmering as the romantic relationship. Yehuli can make something from nothing just by writing in their language. One of my favorite things to read in books is the beauty of oral storytelling and traditions. The way that Ava discusses oral traditions in addition to the beauty of the written text is so intricate and nuanced. The fact that the power of the written text can be something built into the world building is something I’d like to read more of.
Power turns bodies and things into horrific realities, destruction, or worse. Prayers that reanimates life from death. The world building does not remind me of anything I’ve read in fantasy. I’d say it reminds me more of horror and that gives this book a welcome difference.
The romantic tension feels precisely like an old-as-earth impact, like when hot water touches the ice. This is a true enemies-to-lovers and slow-burn romance. The rage Évike feels against the king and the oppression she, and others, face fuses with that hatred she feels for a representative of the enemy, Gáspár, who in return sees a responsibility to his father, an enemy, a necessity. They are fire and ice; Évike and Gáspár.
Évike is very possibly going up there with all the other heroines I’d love to date. She’s seductive, holding me with a smile and a knife. What turns from a frustrated enemy to tolerating that sexy bestie transforms into sweet attacks in the form of a kiss. Reid does the unexpected and transforms Évike into the proud seductress, the alpha stealing the purity of the celibate, basically Catholic prince, to the point that she has him on his knees. He is blissfully a fool for her, and I’d do the same for a woman like Évike.
In Gáspár, you’ll find a tightly wound, surly one-eyed man who only ever has that eye gazed upon one person. The legitimate son of the king, Gáspár, suffers at his father’s hand. He is unfavored in his father’s eyes and in his brother’s, who claims saintliness and rallies the people against the pagans and, in particular, the Yehuli.
In the Yehuli, I find such striking and beautiful wrought characters. Honestly, many of the characters are like a love letter to Jewish readers. When Gáspár and Évike arrive in Kiràly Szek, they witness hatred inspired by the antisemitic history in Hungary. A man is in chains to feed off Patrician peasants’ hostility. Évike knows this man. He’s someone from her past. The intimacy, awkward moments, and yearning for lost love in this relationship match up against any romantic relationship. I’m glad to see such a warm relationship.
The Wolf and The Woodsman is the type of book I can see myself re-reading, and I’m sure I’ll be gripping the edges and trying to hold back the tears every time. The prose, the fierce politics, the romantic tension, the relationships, and characterization. This book has everything I want in a good book. Ava Reid has a great future ahead of her. Consider yourself lucky for getting to read each and every book she writes.