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The Wolf and the Woodsman

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The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid is a very detailed but rich story that involves Slavic and Jewish mythology. Pagan, non-magic Evike finds herself teaming with her worst enemy, only to discover the enemy is someone else. Enter intrigue, danger, torn desires, obligations, found family, and one woman who has to discover who she is to protect the ones she loves. Complex, gorgeous, and lush, The Wolf and the Woodsman isn't for everyone but rewarding for those who do tackle it.

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This is an incredible stand alone fantasy! Each sentence is its own masterpiece and when put together they create the most lyrically beautiful and immersive story. I originally gave The Wolf and the Woodsman 4 stars but after thinking about it more deeply through the process of writing this review, it is an obvious 5 stars.

The vibes are immaculate: dark and woodsy and creepy. I'm a little surprised it wasn't a fall/early winter release as it is the perfect fall read! It is very gruesome and contains on-page violence and mutilation which took me by surprise but did not feel gratuitous. The gore was necessary for the story and fit the vibes, as gross as that may sound.

The beginning felt a little info-dumpy but not to the point where I lost interest and was pulled out of the story. Some parts of it were written so that it felt like the end of the book when in fact it was the middle of a chapter, but I honestly think that might just be the author's writing style and it's not even a real criticism I have. Just something I noticed and found interesting.

But overall I quickly became obsessed with Évike and Gáspár and the angsty tension between them. It was pure perfection.

The author has said they aim for "a realistic representation of the oppression and marginalization experienced by ethnoreligious minorities." And I think this is executed absolutely perfectly. It really tears apart the violence of nation-building and nationalism and religious persecution. These themes are expertly woven into a story and manage to resonate with the reader on every page while not being obnoxiously preachy or in your face.

I cannot wait to see what Ava Reid puts out next!

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Just jumping right on the bandwagon here--

I loved this. It is such a savage, unkind fairy tale; it reminded me of the way fairy tales used to be. Grim and dark and dangerous and not at all tame. Everyone has something to lose and something they're unwilling to give up no matter what -- high stakes and high emotions all. the. way.
The monsters are monstrous and some of the people are not much better; "love" in Evike's world isn't like any love I'd want, fraught with unthinkable choices and bitter sacrifice.
The world-building is excellent; maybe I just hate the cold and ice, but the landscapes came alive and I could easily imagine Gaspar and Evike's misery while they quested through the wildlands. The character development was right on, the side characters were interesting, the conflicts were textured and multi-faceted and <i>hard</i> and that's the way they're supposed to be.

I read the book before I read any of the blurbs about the book, and I kept thinking "this feels really Eastern Bloc, like Czech or something"; it felt familiar. Then I recognized the Esther story later on, and was even more intrigued -- what is this? and when I finally read what Reid had done I was incredibly impressed. The story felt wholly new, but also well-worn and just oozing with tradition. I very much respect her writing and her style, and look forward to encountering more from this author in the future.

Thanks NetGalley for the eARC!

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The Wolf and The Woodsman definitely leans more towards literary fantasy than epic, high fantasy. The whole story has the feel of a fable, complete with plenty of folktales and a bunch of rather soft magic systems.

There's a lot to like here -- the writing is good, Evike is a strong and rather unlikable character whom I thought was very interesting to follow, there is a wealth of Jewish lore threaded lovingly throughout the narrative, the villain was fantastic, and the story was engaging enough to keep me reading despite a slump.

However, I didn't love this as much as I wanted to, and I think that's mainly due to the romance, which is meant to be the heart of this book, but I simply could not believe it at all. I just never got why the two leads were in love, or when they fell in love, or how, and the entire foundation of their relationship felt incredibly flimsy. This is one of those instances where I think the focus on the romance was detrimental to the overall plot; I think this would have been such a great opportunity for a platonic relationship, because personally I felt no chemistry between the two leads at all.

The narrative also feels very uneven here; the first half of the book is taken up by a journey that ends up meaning very little, though I understand its purpose was to develop the relationship between the two leads. Then the second half of the book tries to focus on court politics, but then doesn't really (although this was my favorite part of the book, I have to say), and then things just feel like they happen because they need to, and that's that.

I still think this is a great debut and I will certainly read whatever the author puts out next!

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Thank you to Netgalley and Harper Voyager for the ARC!
I unfortunately was unable to read this before the release date due to family and COVID related complications, but it only took about 50 pages for me to buy a copy in order to lend it to friends after I had finished.
This book has everything I love in fantasy - rich, beautiful writing in a cold and dark landscape, beautifully explored magic systems rooted deeply in culture and history, characters that come alive and a strong narrative voice. This book gripped me immediately and wouldn't let go. I adored the cold, harsh world and adored the moments of heartbreaking familial warmth even more. The growing feelings between the Wolf Girl and the Woodsman were compelling and understandably fraught with all of the anger, hurt, and fear that existed between their respective cultures and religions, and the tenderness that began to build between them was lovely to watch develop.
All-told this has become a new favorite of mine, and one I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a dark, cold, and incredibly vibrant fantasy.

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Though this started a bit slow for me, I absolutely fell in love with this atmospheric and dark fantasy adventure. A wonderful slow-burn, enemies-to-lovers, this book explored carefully the power religion and upbringing hold over who we become as people, and how prejudices and learned thinking affect groups of people. The worldbuilding was unique but beautifully inspired by real culture and history and I thought it was rich and captivating world that the story was set in. All in all, filled with great drama and tension, heart stopping and heart wrenching moments, and a great read.

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This I found very atmospheric! It wasn't a perfect book, sometimes I found it a little confusing to follow and the pacing was definitely off in places, but I liked the tone of it. Something sinister and weird about the whole thing. I liked it. Might check out the finished copy to see if some of the things I had issues with were resolved.

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An interesting retelling of the combination of Jewish and Hungarian mythology. Kind of reminds me of Deathless by Catheryenne Valente. I feel like Reid shouldve used the fairytale-like style rather than combining both of fairytale-ish and regular style. It's kinda slowpaced. Fortunately I like the characters mainly Evike so kind of make up for it..

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This is a good book; it's just unfortunately not one for me. I'm really not a huge fan of first person, especially in secondary world fantasy novels, and that just worked against this book.

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it has been close to two months since i finished the wolf and the woodsman and i’m still struggling to express my thoughts on it, so i’m resorting to pros and cons. (sorry!)

pros:
– ava reid’s writing is gorgeous. i want to cram a dozen quotes into this review because i was obsessed with the prose. every once in a while i find an author whose writing is exactly to my tastes and it makes me so excited to see what they do next.
– the exploration of religion and culture is so nuanced. reid handles a lot of very heavy themes—religious oppression, cultural genocide, ethnic cleansing—through the lens of the patritian, pagan, and yehuli populations in régország. reid’s background in religion and ethnonationalism is very apparent throughout the novel, and i mean that in the best possible way.
– i haven’t read either of the comp titles yet (spinning silver and the bear and the nightingale), but the dark, bloody fairytale vibes here are magnificent. 10/10.

cons:
– i struggled with the pacing. there were so many stories (told by évike and other characters) that pulled me out of the main storyline.
– the characters and romance fell a bit flat for me. i love a good slow-burn romance, but this one just didn’t click. they had some great lines and i always love kneeling (especially when there are religious metaphors involved 👀), i just wasn’t invested enough in either of them to care about their relationship all that much.
– certain words and phrases were so repetitive. one example is the “évike thinking/fantasizing about gáspár” scenes; i feel like you could shuffle most of those scenes around in almost any order and get the same effect.

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TW: Self harm, gore, genocide, abuse, torture, antisemitism

Wow! What a powerful and beautiful fantasy! In this story we follow Evike, who is the only woman without any kind of magic in her pagan village. In her village they worship old gods and for that they are punished by the royal family and those who now worship the new religion (more Christian coded religion in terms of sacrifice and modesty). As punishment the king sends his Woodsmen out into the pagan villages to bring back a young woman as sacrifice. Since Evike has no powers of her own and the village desperately needs their seer, she is sent in the guise of her childhood tormentor. She is soon discovered by one of the Woodsmen, who turns out to be the cast out Prince. Together they find some of their goals align and they must work to make sure the prince’s half sibling does not make an attempt to usurp the throne.

There is so much more going on in this story that I don’t want to spoil but if you love fairy tales steeped in Jewish and Hungarian lore I think you’ll love this. Oh and just know that this has a delicious enemies to lovers romance full of angst and forced proximity. 😉

Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for providing me with a copy of this book to review. All opinions and reviews are my own words and I was not compensated for this review.

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A great debut which tells a village girl and her journey alongside the prince. Ava Reid's writing reminds me of Allison Saft's Down Comes the Night, a book I read early this year...it's full of breathtaking imagery and prose. I think most of the memorable parts of the book is the writing craft. It really fits the mood and theme, twisted and dark, almost like a spellbinding folktale.

However, I have trouble trying to finish the book from start to finish. I struggled to connect with the characters (the romance, too). It seems Évike and Gáspár are quite flat and it's disappointing since the world is lush and unique. I really like how Reid explore her cultural identity and background in this fantastical world. It feels refreshing to read a passionate Ownvoices novel. Now back to the characters. Gáspár is fine...for a love interest, I don't expect much from him but the main protagonist, Évike, I just think she's a little off-putting. I get the author is trying to write her as a strong female character but she's quite childish and unlikeable. Other times she's rude, and so on. There isn't one consistency in her character throughout the book and it left me more confused than ever. Overall it feels more of a YA novel than adult.

I ponder what rating I should give this book for quite sometime. In the end, I decided to give it 3 stars. Thank you Netgalley for this e-arc for exchange of this honest review.

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The Wolf & The Woodsman is dark story inspired by Hungarian mythos and Jewish folklore and the history of oppression of religious minorities. This book contains violent monsters, a strong leading lady, and a slow enemies-to-lovers romance. There is also a heart-breaking portrayal of anti-semitism and genocide in this fantasy world.

This book is gorgeously violent, make no mistake that none of the body horror or descriptions of battles and monsters is overdone. It all has a purpose to the story. Ava Reid did a perfect job of utilizing these dark themes to make her point. Her descriptions are lush and dream-like, which contrasts harshly (but perfectly) with the terror and brutality of the world.

This book has been one of my favorite reads of the year.

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2.5 stars
This was alright overall, but I wasn't hooked throughout the whole book. Please note that this is very much an adult book, with heavy violence, gore and a sprinkling of sex. Not YA.

I liked the idea and concept of Jewish and Hungarian history and mythology. Since I know nothing about either, I can't say for certain whether the execution was great or not. The romance was pretty good, and I wished that aspect was explored more extensively. Évike is definitely a more toughened, no-nonsense heroine and the hero Gáspár is a soft-boy prince, which worked well for the dynamic between them and the enemies-to-lovers journey they go through. This also had forced proximity, huddling for warmth (similar to an only-one-bed situation), and forbidden romance– all the tropes I like.

However, whenever the plot got interesting and the characters are in a pickle, there would be a pause for one person to tell the story about a god, myth or the history of how a certain magic came to be, and that frequently took me out of the story and action. It got too heavy-handed for my liking. As the story progressed, I wasn't too engaged anymore as much as I was at the start, unfortunately.


⚠️ Content Warnings (provided by the author):
- Gore, including graphic descriptions of dismemberment, amputation, mutilation, and immolation
- Torture, including whipping
- Animal death (graphic; the animals are not pets)
- Antisemitism
- Cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing
- Physical abuse by parents and parental figures
- Graphic descriptions of vomiting

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This book was wonderful. The world building, the characters and the plot had me flying through the pages of this book and wanted more. Ava Reid's writing is exquisite and her characters were well drawn.

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from the jewish folklore to the amazing worldbuilding with the political structure and magical elements, the wolf and the woodsman provided so much than just simple storytelling. it sent the message of how stories make the person we become and its effects on our emotions. the character development was just fantastic, slow but worked well in the overall story. with evike becoming comfortable and finding her inner strength, and gaspar yet being another fictional man with trauma yet such a gentle soul with a burden of a title on his shoulders. this was nothing less than a fantastic debut from ava reid and looking forward to her future works!

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The Wolf and the Woodsman is a charming story that I would recommend for those wanting to make a leap from YA to Adult Fantasy.

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How important is a story to you? Important enough to hear? What about important enough to learn, so that you can tell it again? Is it important enough to preserve—important enough to write down, if you know how to write, important enough to recite if you can’t?

Important enough to die for, to kill for? Important enough to live for?

Ava Reid’s debut The Wolf and the Woodsman is replete with the kinds of stories that endure. It gives the book more heft, more weight than its 400-odd pages imply, layering pagan myth and Jewish history into the already-dense weave of religion, politics, history, and landscape that make up the book’s fantastical setting. The result is like a lacquered painting, forever revealing new depths with every new angle, telling us not just new stories, but revealing hard truths about the nature of story itself.

Stories about pain can ease suffering. Stories about bravery can inspire courage. But our personal narratives can go the other way, too: they can reinforce our worst fears and impulses, keeping us trapped in cycles of violence and hate.

Évike, the main character of The Wolf and the Woodsman, has a story that she tells about herself: that she’s spiteful and bad and largely worthless. It’s the same story that her village tells about her about herself, after all, since she has no magic and she has Yehuli (this book’s version of the Jewish people) blood. She rages against this version of herself, but at her core, she accepts it in the same way that she accepts her place as the annual sacrifice to the distant king. She thinks her story will be that of a girl who saves her page tribe, even temporarily, but as events conspire to change small things about her journey, she begins to realize she may have the power to undermine what she was led to believe was her fate.

Gáspár has a story too, the dutiful heir who must work within systems if he is to have power, whether the monarchal system of his father’s government or the puritanical confines of his faith. He is cautious where Évike is reckless and pious where Évike is provocative, but at his core, he too is an abused youth shunned for his mixed parentage.

Their lives are opposed but their stories are so similar, and it doesn’t take long before they both begin to see it. The romance is a deliciously dark enemies-to-lovers burn, with plenty of inherent drama, no contrived misunderstandings necessary. Évike and Gáspár have a lot to overcome in order to simply coexist; the romance, while inevitable, is nonetheless skillfully accomplished. The difficulties Évike and Gáspár face are both personal and political, with trauma as much of an impediment as it is a sad source of common ground for the two. Fortunately, they also have in common their desire to repair the world, a shared goodness that shines through both of them despite their darker impulses and their sniping.

But will the world let them? Supernatural horrors abound, an enemy masses at the border, and a religious fanatic stirs up mobs, giving them scapegoats instead of solutions. The Wolf and the Woodsman will, inevitably, draw comparison to Spinning Silver and the Grisha books, mostly because of the Eastern European and Jewish elements. I will say that there’s a bit of Shadow and Bone about one strand of the plot, a desperate quest to find a mythic creature that Évike and Gáspár think will give them the power to thwart a great evil. The king is also weak and hedonistic, oblivious to the threat posed by a rising tide of discontent within the kingdom and factions within his nobility. However, The Wolf and the Woodsman is entirely its own story, taking intercultural and interreligious tension as its themes rather than detailing a single fable.

There are moments when The Wolf and the Woodsman’s characters feel subjected to the plot instead of generating it. A mob, whipped into a fury by a preternaturally gifted speaker, nevertheless leaves its intended victims alone. A girl marked for execution nevertheless becomes an advisor and bodyguard. These decisions would make more sense if given either more interiority from the characters or less dire tension, but the threat of mass murder hangs over absolutely everything, making every choice seem like the most fraught decision ever. It becomes a bit fatiguing to leap from dire straight to even more dire straight without a sustaining sense of triumph or humor. Is it fair to critique a story about religious and cultural persecution for being too grim? Perhaps not, but it’s still difficult to read after an unrelentingly grim year (and years before that).

Tender moments with the Yehuli are some of the most memorable because of their gentleness relative to the book’s otherwise harsh realities. The cold and the forests, the Patricians and the pagans, everyone and everything trying to kill everyone and everything else makes the warmth of Yehuli homes and stories burn all the brighter.

I thought the villains were a bit over the top at first, but that’s actually a consequence of their believing their own stories. Like Évike and Gáspár, the king and his bastard, Nandor, were fed a narrative of expectations and prohibitions, a tangle that eventually snares them as much as anyone else. It’s a brilliant turn, and I wish we’d had even more time to see the destructive effect of story.

The superb worldbuilding and thoughtfully counterbalancing tensions, though, carry the narrative through any slightly rough spots, as does the remarkable prose. Never effusive but always evocative, I’ve dogeared more than two dozen pages just so that I can go back to savor certain phrases and lines. It deserves a full re-read too, since I’m sure I didn’t fully appreciate its dense interweave of stories. Some books—especially fantasy books—have what I call the Peter Jackson Problem, drawing out every last bit of tension until the whole story goes permanently slack instead of snapping. This is the opposite. The Wolf and the Woodsman is stuffed so full of plot threads and character work that it could have comfortably been another 100 pages long. It perhaps should have been another 25 to 50 pages. Reid needed to give the narrative a bit more room to breathe, needed to hold up each character to the light some more and consider them from additional angles. Put another way: her characters are all very multifaceted, her world dense and rich, and I wanted to spend more time with all of it. I wanted to understand more, to see more. I hope that in future novels she gives us lots more—of this and whatever other worlds she dreams up.

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<i> Thank you Netgalley and Harper Voyager for sending me this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review. </i>

<b> Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

Rep: Jewish rep, Hungarian culture, sapphic side characters

TW: bloodletting for magical purposes, mutilation for magical purposes, murder, graphic death scenes, religious persecution, antisemitism, torture, sexual scenes (not particularly graphic or descriptive), cultural genocide, body horror </b>

This book was impeccable. From the very first page I could tell that Ava Reid is a very intelligent person and writes cohesively, succinctly, and with vivid imagery. I think that is why I struggled to write this review. There was so much that I loved and wanted to share and every time I went to write my review, I was unable to coherently piece together my ideas. So, I have accepted that I cannot do this story justice and the biggest piece of advice I can leave is for you, if you’re reading this, to pick up this piece of art for yourself and get lost within the pages.

In this story we have Èvike, a wolf girl, a Pagan, who is given as a sacrifice by her people to the Woodsman, the strict followers of the Patrifaith. There she meets Gáspár, a Woodsman, who is more than he seems and together they embark on a journey of love and understanding. As they get to know each other they begin to question their beliefs, fears, and understanding of the society, in which they live. This story is full of parallels, and the exploration of religion, diaspora and one’s place in society was so carefully crafted.T he juxtaposition between the Patrifaith and Paganism also highlighted some pretty important conversations, especially when the practitioners of the Patrifaith would deny or willfully ignore the history the two shared.

I feel obligated to say this, because I know it’s what many people want, let’s talk about romance. It’s an enemies-to-lovers slow-burn, full of forbidden touches, furtive glances, and 'I’ll fall to my knees to/for you' and so much more. It was sweet and careful and great, but honestly there were other aspects of the story that dominated my attention. I know, truly, I am shocked too. One of the hidden gems is the relationship Èvike cultivates with one of the Yehuli (if you’ve read it, you know who I’m referring to). I can’t speak on it much without spoiling, but the Yehuli people in the book can be equated to Jewish people in real life. The manner and which, and the justification the Kingdom supplies for wanting to send them to a Yehuli-state is very reminiscent of modern-day Israel and how some antisemites think Jewish people should only exist within this quasi-religious state. This diaspora portion of the story was so relevant and important and I hope reader’s were able to pick up on this nuanced conversation.

My only hiccup at all would be the pacing, there was a lot of lore and history packed into this story and at moments certain discussion felt like they were going on extensively. This is not a major issue by any means, but it was something I noticed, because this is often when I would decide to put the book down for a break. I did not gobble this story up frantically, instead I read it leisurely, over time, whenever I felt called to return to the world.

This story is gritty, wild, and dark at times, but with Reid’s poetic and intentional writing even the haunting and grotesque could be read with beauty and wonder. So much was encapsulated within this novel and while I know standalone fantasy can be a challenging feat, it was well executed in this instance.

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A great fantasy story, with unique inspiration. I loved Evike and the way her story was built. I'll be looking for further books from Ava Reid with great anticipation!

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