I received an ARC from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.
Genre: Fantasy Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 5 stars Series: Standalone CW: self-mutilation, religious persecution
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.
Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
THE WOLF AND THE WOODSMAN was a book I was so excited for when I heard about it earlier in the year, and then was lucky enough to get an ARC (which I forced myself not to read until I’d submitted an assignment). As such, I was a little nervous when I finally picked the ARC up, during a week where I’d been unable to work on the things I needed to, but had instead “whiled away the time” reading.
Thankfully, I needn’t have worried as this book, in a word, is frankly stunning. The writing is so beautiful, lyrical and full of imagery and clever turns of phrase that suck you in. The world is richly conjured, threaded through with stories. The back of the ARC says Stories don’t have to be true to be real and it certainly reflects the richness of the mythology Évike relays to Gáspár throughout.
THE WOLF AND THE WOODSMAN is also about religious persecution, a deft and searching exploration of prejudice and bigotry. Gáspár’s faith is a clear analogy for Christianity and how it has hypocritically interacted with faiths – including the Jewish faith (represented by Évike’s father and his community.) The book does not shy away from detailing the persecution both the pagan and the Yehuli face, but also shows the joy within their communities, particularly as Évike is welcomed into her father’s house and learns about his practices.)
There are three different magic systems in this book – one for each of the religions present. The beliefs around the magic and the ways they are practiced (including a lot of pretty gory self-mutilation from the Christian-analogy practitioners) is another avenue used to explore the hypocrisy of some faiths, but also the blind devotion of some.
Gáspár is the epitome of a pious princeling whose beliefs are slowly challenged by someone he has been taught is pure evil, and then discovers is only human. The unravelling of impressed doctrine and the slow opening of eyes was so engrossing, as he fought and struggled and tried to cling to his beliefs. What I really loved was that the core of his faith did not get lost, but the trappings and twisted doctrines were what fell away.
I’m not normally one for romance, but the slow burn enemies-to-lovers, via reluctant allies, that is Évike and Gáspár was so well done that I was deeply invested in their journey. Gáspár is taciturn and burdened, but not the overbearing, possessive creature you often find in romances, particularly when they start as enemies.
In all, it’s a brilliant book and I cannot wait to see what Ava Reid writes next.
Read my reviews of other books by Ava Reid: