Member Reviews

The Wolf and the Woodsman is a complex fast-paced fantasy written by Ava Reid. In her debut novel, it explores how humans excuse their own hatred in the name of religion. I think it is best to start this book without reading the synopsis because it gives away too much.

It follows the story of a strong female lead character named Évike and a soft gentleman prince who embark on a journey together to preserve the country. However, they are sworn enemies. This book gave me major Nina and Matthias vibes from Six of Crows so if you’re a fan of them, read this!!!

TW: The only parts I had trouble reading were all of the descriptive and grotesque scenes involving self mutilation, animal sacrifice, and amputation. Thank you to Harper Voyager and NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

The Wolf and the Woodsman is an enrapturing tale of mythology, culture and romance. It tells the story of a girl named Évike, a woman of the Wolf Tribe - who fear the coming of the Woodsmen. When the Woodsmen arrive, the Matriarch of the Wolf Tribe decide to sacrifice Évike, the village outcast, who ends up experiencing the terrors of the woods and the blood-thirsty city that awaits her beyond it.

I think fans of Katherine Arden's the Winternight Trilogy would thoroughly enjoy this novel. Though unique on her own Ava Reid writes in such a similarly thrillingly atmospheric way that I felt as if I was living through the pages to the point that whenever the wind blew, I swear I felt it rise right up my skin.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was beautifully romantic, properly grim and yet even in the darkest bits of the story - where violence rears its ugly head highest - Reid's execution of the story is so evocative and steeped with nuance and emotion that you could tell how personal it was for her. My heartstrings hurt right alongside the story and its characters to a level where I think I'll be thinking about this book for a while.

Fantastic debut. Would recommend!!

Was this review helpful?

Actual rating: 2.5 stars

I was so excited for this book and can somewhat see the comparisons to Spinning Silver and the Winternight trilogy, but this book did not live up to the hype for me. The beginning was very nice, and it did feel like the same sort of magical quality. However, it really slowed down after that and became less interesting, especially once they reach the city and meet the king. At this point, it's more like medieval Christians vs Jews vs pagans which isn't uninteresting as an idea, but I had just lost interest by then.

In general, the pacing is very slow with action scenes that do not last very long. I felt disappointed and confused with some of them because they're over in about a paragraph. I could have used much longer scenes, especially with some of the cool creatures that they meet! While this seems to be based on Hungarian mythology and history (I think), it also seems to be influenced by Norse and Greek mythology. I'm surprised that this didn't work better for me because I usually love these types of elements. I just generally found myself pretty ambivalent, perhaps because the pacing was off for me.

I liked Evike initially, but then I grew to be somewhat apathetic towards her. She's fierce and will fight for herself. She's an outcast in her village and treated pretty horribly, so it does feel like she's a survivor. Despite feeling like her journey was great at first, I'm not sure that she has the most character growth. She's a bit "woe is me" towards the end, though she does have some moments of self awareness at least. Gaspar was alright, but he's somewhat bland and forgettable. I really did not feel the romance at all which I think is a major reason why I didn't love this book since it is a focus for most of the book. I kept wondering why they even liked each other, so unfortunately, this was a miss for me.

There are some really great ideas in this book though! I thought that the concept of the Wolf girls and magic that comes with sacrifice were really interesting. I could have used more of these aspects as I didn't entirely get the best sense of the magic and creatures in the world.

I'm definitely bummed that I didn't love this more! I really thought I would adore it, but I just felt somewhat relieved to finish it unfortunately. However, it does seem like others really like it, so perhaps it's just not the book for me.

Content warnings for self harm

My video review can be seen on my channel (around minutes 0:33-4:13 of this video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUixVPhVVb0

Was this review helpful?

***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog***

The Wolf & The Woodsman by Ava Reid
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: June 8, 2021
Rating: 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads):

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.

What I Liked:

You know that feeling when you see a book's cover, read the synopsis, and just KNOW that this will be something you'll love? I got that feeling when I heard about this book a year ago, and that feeling did not lead my astray. This story was absolutely exquisite.

The Wolf & The Woodsman is an adult fantasy novel based on Jewish folklore and Hungarian history. There are many major themes in this book that the author explored, including cultural genocide, antisemitism, and ethnic cleansing. I want to note that I do not have Hungarian heritage and I am not Jewish, so I will not have the best perspective on certain aspects of the book. Nevertheless, I know how hard the author worked to put every ounce of herself, her culture, her religion, and her history into this book. As an "outsider", I can appreciate how well-written the story is, how fantastic the world-building is, and how powerful the messages are.

Please note: there is body horror, abuse by elders, mutilation, torture, and other potential triggers in this story.

This is the story of Évike, a woman without power in her small pagan village. She is despised by many in her village, and abused for her powerlessness, as well as her mixed heritage (her father is a Yehuli man). When the Woodsmen arrive to take another pagan girl with seer power, the villagers conspire to send Évike. Évike is taken to the nation's capital, where she must serve the king and his treasonous son. Gáspár, one of the Woodsmen charged with bringing Évike to the king, is the king's other son. He knows what it is like to be despised for who he is. Together, Évike and Gáspár must work together to to stop Gáspár's traitorous brother from overthrowing the king, slaughtering the Yehuli, and changing the landscape and the history of the nation forever.

There is so much more to this story than what I briefly summarized. The magic system, the politics, the scheming, the romance... this standalone novel is filled with just about everything that makes a fantasy novel amazing. But it's even more than a "usual fantasy novel" - Reid makes this novel her own by weaving Jewish history, lore, and life into this book. This book parallels Hungarian history in the Yehuli's imminent expulsion from the capital, the blatant discrimination, the way they are used and discarded by the government. I need to reread this novel to analyze and engulf myself in the political machinations and the Yehuli trials - Reid has written these aspects so, so well, and with such power and purpose.

I do want to talk about the romance - I love a good slowburn, hate to love romance. Évike is a feisty, hurt, tough young woman, and Gáspár is a quiet, hurt, tough young man. They should be on opposite sides of the war, with Évike being a pagan "wolf-girl" of mixed heritage, and Gáspár being a royal prince of mixed heritage. But they are like fire and ice or a moth and a flame - they are magnetic, and I love this pairing. I love Évike's headstrong quality and Gáspár's quiet, less assertive nature. Such a sweet, yet volatile romance!

Évike isn't just a strong young woman - she's a fighter and a survivor. She has been abused by her village and her Yehuli family doesn't know she exists. She's tired, hurt, and broken down, but she is a fighter. She takes matters into her own hands - particularly her "powerlessness". Here is where the body horror aspect comes into play - I won't say much more than that. Évike wasn't just on a journey to the capital, or a journey to find this fantastical magical creature - she was on a journey that led to her discovering more about her Yehuli heritage. I really appreciate Reid's commentary on heritage, and the diaspora.

This novel is a standalone, and the story feels very full and complete by the time I reached the end. I would love to read more books in this universe, but I feel as though Évike and Gáspár's "chapter" is over. The ending is one that I enjoyed - no spoilers, of course! The author wraps up all the loose ends but also leaves the future slightly open... I wouldn't mind seeing Évike and Gáspár make cameo appearances in companion novels set within the same universe. If that is something that the author is considering!

I truly enjoyed this wonderful, powerful, thought-provoking novel. The cover is gorgeous and so is the beautiful story!

What I Did Not Like:

I can't think of anything I did not like! Perhaps that the story pacing dragged a little in the middle, but I also read this book over several days, so keep that in mind. The pacing overall is very engaging, but I hit a snag in the middle. But things pick up quickly in the capital! You'll have to read the book to know what I mean.

Would I Recommend It:

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy novels. This is NOT a fairy tale retelling - don't be fooled. This IS an adult fiction novel though, so don't confuse this book with Young Adult (YA) novels. The book can be read by YA readers, but the content of the book is certainly meant for adults. (Graphic violence, sexual content, etc.)

Rating:

5 stars. Thank you so much to the publishing team for letting me read this book ahead of the publication. I have been lending my early copy to friends and family and screaming about this book on social media. I have been struggling to read anything in the last year (oh, pandemic), but this book was exactly what I needed - immersive, intriguing, and thought-provoking. I can't wait to read more by Ava Reid!

Was this review helpful?

“I think you are forgetting yourself. You’re a Woodsman and a prince, and I’m a trifling wolf-girl. All my life I’ve been terrified I’d wake to see you at my door.”

Évike is an outcast in her Pagan village, the villagers believe her lack of magic means she is shunned by the gods because of her impure bloodline. When the Woodsman come to claim a pagan girl for the yearly blood sacrifice, the villagers don’t hesitate to offer her up instead. After a series of gruesome attacks, Évike is left with one Woodsman who is—surprise!—the outcast prince, Gáspár Bárány. Gáspár explains to Évike that his father needs pagan magic to defend the kingdom against his radical religious half brother. The already persecuted Yehuli and Pagans would suffer greatly if Nándor succeeded. With just each other to rely on Évike hesitantly agrees to help.

Régország is a dark and unforgiving world with vicious monsters and a darker, more demanding magic. The cultural aspects of the book are richly shaped with detail and you can tell they have a clear relationship to Jewish mythology and Hungarian history—I would read this book again just to soak of more of the cultural elements. Ava Reid explored timeless themes of religious persecution in ways that made me so uncomfortable I know she got it right.

The Wolf and the Woodsman combines religion, politics, and magic in an unforgettable tale about a young woman who, by the strength of her will, survives and finds love in a world that has always cast her aside. A classic enemies to lovers romance, I could not get enough of Évike and Gáspár. Their spats and little arguments added levity and humor and so much natural chemistry. If you enjoyed Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik or love reading fairytales I recommend picking up this fantastic debut by Ava Reid.

Was this review helpful?

Beautiful imagery of fantastical and sometimes unforgiving landscapes along with terrifying descriptions of horrific creatures will draw the reader into a world that in many ways parallels our own, but in so many more ways, is starkly different. While the pictures are eloquently painted on the pages, sometimes it can become a bit busy with a proliferation of similes and euphemisms, the same being used again and again, with very little variation in the text. The first half of this story was difficult for me to get through, the story and characters wandering aimless, searching for something that isn’t found and then wandering back, meeting various conflicts along the way, all with little point or direction.

About three-quarters of the way, it begins to pick up, and I really enjoyed when Evike began to learn how to write and to take part in the traditions from her Yehuli ancestry. From then on, though, it’s another slapdash attempt at a climax that again drags with stops and starts only to lead to unresolved conclusion.

Many elements to this story held promise and could have been something spectacular but in the end, I came away feeling dissatisfied and unimpressed.

An advanced copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher. The opinions are my own.

Was this review helpful?

This book hooks you in from the start and will not let you go until it's finished. Therefore, I highly suggest you do not start this book until you have the time to sit down and devour it.

First- Trigger warnings for self-mutilations, gore, violence, and a lot of religious prejudice.

I love this book, and I feel it earns its five stars. That being said, there was a moment that I almost gave up because of a scene that disturbed me. There is also no levity to balance out the gore and it caught up with me in a dark scene. But continuing is ABSOLUTELY worth it! This book beautifully mixed history and fantasy and reminded me of a darker Naomi Novik in terms of storyline. But I will say the writing style of The Wolf and the Woodsman is much easier to read compared to Novik's storybook style that I read in Uprooted.

I wish I knew how dark it would be, but I think that might have turned me away from what turned out to be a five-star read. The central paring was also really strong, and I enjoyed watching them evolve together. Additionally, as I'm writing this in Pride Month, I want to say there is a queer couple in this as well.

Overall, if you think you can handle it, you definitely need to read this book.

Was this review helpful?

The Wolf and the Woodsman is a story about two outcasts trying to win against a tyrant with seemingly insurmountable odds. It's a story of enemies to possibility, of betrayal that turns our stomach, and the hands of fate. Woven throughout a story of magical, and dangerous creatures, Reid examines clashes of religion, culture, and sexism. I was immediately drawn to Évike, the ways she's hardened her heart out of necessity. Reid's The Wolf and the Woodsman presents compelling, and endearing, characters with action that propels readers from the beginning.

As someone who has never belong, there's something foundational, transparent, in Évike and Gáspár. The ways there are forces, religion, and power between them. All real obstacles that end in knife points and bindings. But underneath it all, there's this utterly similar undercurrent that they do not belong, the hatred of those around them, and the feeling of fighting against the tide. The Wolf and the Woodsman is multi-faceted, asking if they could ever bridge the divide and recognize something so universal and essential within them.

Was this review helpful?

This will be a bit of a weird review because though I didn't particularly like this book, I think it was still a very excellent read. I struggle with fable-based fantasy and magical realism because I like to have everything spelled out in explicit terms -- "x magic system works because of y" -- so these kinds of books tend to be a bit over my head. That being said, I think the writing is intricate and immersive, and it's so clear that Ava Reid is spectacularly talented, so I have no doubt that this book will be popular with people who enjoy this genre!

Was this review helpful?

Ava Reid’s The Wolf And The Woodsman is not a YA novel. I’m just getting that out there right away, because I’ve seen it categorised as YA in more than one place online and there are parts of this book which are very adult. Also, the YA label would, unfortunately, put off a lot of adult readers which would mean they miss out on one of the best books I have read so far in 2021. The Wolf And The Woodsman is a grown-up, complicated, angsty, sexy, dark book – and one that I will be recommending far and wide.

Inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology (more on that later), this the story of Évike, the only woman in a pagan village who has no magic. Her lack of magic is blamed by the villagers on her bloodline – her father was a Yehuli man, one of the people who serve the faraway king. Every so often, the Holy Order of Woodsmen come from the king to take a pagan girl as a sacrifice, and eventually Évike is handed over. Against the odds, she falls in with the Woodsman captain, Gáspár, who turns out to be the heir of the king. They team up to fight against his fanatical half-brother’s attempt to take the throne for himself, and to save the Yehuli and pagan people alike from the persecuting hand of the patrician faith.

To call this book a fantasy or a fairy-tale is, I think, to slightly miscategorise it. Not that there is anything wrong with either of those genres of course, but I’d be more inclined to call this an alternate history. The king and the administration are Christian. The Yehuli are Jewish. This isn’t me interpreting; it is very clear on both accounts that these groups align with our real world, and that is what makes this feel like a historical novel with magic more than any other genre. The pagans, clinging on for survival at the fringes of the kingdom, are no less real although they feel slightly more fantastical as a people than the others do – but they are characters who have deliberately steeped themselves in their own mysticism, and the ‘Christians’ at least make much of the pagan magic by seeking to control and suppress it.

The whole novel has such a realistic historical feel that sometimes it comes as a surprise when the characters encounter horrifying monsters in the forest, or heal a wound with their hands. This jolt that reminds us that this isn’t quite our own world comes regularly, and keeps us on the edge as readers. Reid has woven an intricate web of history, myth and fantasy, and pulls on each thread delicately at just the right time throughout her story.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t spend some time talking about Évike, easily Reid’s best creation in this novel full of good things. In Évike, Reid has a woman who is allowed to be angry at the world and the things it has put her through. She is a survivor of what can only be called an abusive childhood, left alone when her mother died and taken in by the village seer who cares for her but is not always kind. In being half Yehuli on her father’s side, Évike is a Jewish woman too and watching her learn about her people and be accepted by them for who she is – rather than who she isn’t – is one of the joys of her character, and gives us most of the moments of light in the novel.

Making your own life from nothing, finding your place and clinging onto it with both hands, is one of the central themes of Évike’s story and nowhere is this clearer than in her relationship with Gáspár, her narrative foil. As the only legitimate son of the king, his place should be clear, but as his mother was an outsider too, Gáspár has to prove himself just as Évike does. Their love story, the coming together of two lonely, damaged people who have never before had anyone they could truly rely on, is one of the best romances I’ve seen in a long time. The yearning alone really is something else.

In The Wolf And The Woodsman, Reid has produced a seriously impressive debut novel and I for one will be keeping a keen eye on whatever comes next.

Was this review helpful?

Summary: This story follows Evike, a half Jewish, half pagan girl who grows up in a pagan village which thrives due to the magical abilities the girls in the village are able to wield, given to them by their gods. This village exists deep in the forest within a nation that appears radically monotheistic (this monotheistic faith called the Patrifaith seems to resemble Christianity and the rigor with which it is enforced draws strongly from historical events such as the inquisition). Every year the woodsmen, members of a holy order which worships the Prinkepatrios and serves the King, arrive at the village to take one girl with strong magical abilities away to the king for slaughter. This year, they have come for a seer but instead the matriarch of the village gives them Evike, despite the fact that she has never displayed magical abilities of any kind. Evike soon finds that the woodsman who took her isn't what he seems to be and that there is far more going on than she was led to believe.

Review: I'm not sure I can find the right words to explain how I felt while reading this book. I guess I'll start with the simplest ones. I felt seen. I've been reading young adult literature for about 10 years now and I've never come across a single book that has depicted my culture in any meaningful way. This book does that and more. Ava Reid describes the historic oppression of Jewish people but she also spends a great deal of time talking about their resiliency and beauty. Even in the face of imminent harm, the Jews of the city celebrate their holidays and tell the story of Esther's bravery.

Although the society in which Evike lives is one in which people who claim to represent Christianity use their religion to oppress those of the Jewish and pagan faiths, each ideology is given proper respect. There is no one magic system or one set of gods that grant true power. Every god grants power in their own right to those who believe and hold fast to their culture. When she leaves her village, Evike finds that each faith draws on the other. The stories she grew up on are not so different from those told to the children of the Patrifaith. Each one may have many interpretations but that doesn't have to mean one is more correct than another. Evike finds that she does not have to choose between her mother's gods or her fathers. By trusting in the stories of her village she finds her way to her pagan magic and by learning the language of her father and the power words hold she finds her way to Jewish magic as well. It is both parts of herself that help her save the kingdom and the people she loves.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Thank you so much to Harper Voyager and Netgalley for giving me this arc in exchange for an honest review!

Was this review helpful?

The Wolf and the Woodsman has been one of my much anticipated releases for 2021 and I’m so thankful and excited to report it stood up to every expectation–and then some–that I had for it. A dark, woodsy adult fantasy filled to the brim with atmospheric writing, angsty enemies-to-lovers romance, and Jewish folklore.

The writing in this book is absolutely spectacular. This is Ava Reid’s debut novel and it is very obvious how talented of a writer she is. Vivid descriptions. flesh out characters, and faultless pacing come together to create the perfect story. Her words effortlessly conjure an atmospheric setting and easily captivate the reader’s attention.

The enemies-to-lovers romance is the stuff of dreams. I could not have asked for the relationship between Évike and Gáspár to be written any better. The angst, the yearning, the tension; all of it was brilliantly constructed.

The Wolf and the Woodsman also focuses on important issues as well. The themes of oppression, ethnic cleansing, and genocide are explored throughout the book. The story borrows heavily from Jewish folklore and Hungarian history. I was compelled by Évike’s journey of survival and identity.

Given the title of the book (I’ll read anything that has the word “wolf” in the title) and the synopsis, there was no much convincing needed to add this to my TBR. The Wolf and the Woodsman bewitched me from beginning to end. The atmospheric setting, phenomenal writing, and angsty slow-burn romance provided a lethal combination that had me flying through the chapters. I highly recommend checking out this dark, woodsy adult fantasy and I look forward to more stories from Ava Reid in the future!

Was this review helpful?

I really wanted to love this book. I do think that the author shows a lot of talent and promise, but there were issues with this book that I had a hard time overlooking. I think the author was strongest in creating atmosphere - writing about the landscape, surroundings, overall feeling, etc. I also think that some of the strongest parts of the book were in the stories that Evike told from her pagan heritage. I think that the pagan belief system was really well designed and described. The author had some really striking and beautiful turns of phrase. Where I think the author struggled was with dialogue, characterization, and motivating characters. Unfortunately most of these characters are pretty flat - they don't grow or change that much throughout the whole course of the book, and "bad" people like Nandor are just unequivocally evil and not particularly nuanced. I know we're supposed to believe that Gaspar and Evike have changed so much because they learn to love each other, but honestly I don't think that they actually grow much throughout the book. I was frequently frustrated by Evike's inability to adapt to her situation in a meaningful way. And I find it hard to believe that they would basically never see or speak to each other after they arrive at the palace, but then when they escape to hunt the turul again, they are suddenly declaring love. I had a hard time buying the romance. I also felt that many of the character motivations were a bit confusing or lacking. I think the author did a great job in creating this world and the magic systems, belief systems, and political climate. But I think it was overall a bit muddy and confused. Also, the pacing felt a bit off to me - the first half of the book dragged a bit, and then the back half tried to fit in so much. I think this author has a lot of promise but this could have used more editing.

Was this review helpful?

I LOVED this book. It's beautiful and harsh, sensitive and gritty - and everything I want out of a great Fantasy Read (its also one of those crossovers that will appeal to lots of readers who don't typically read fantasy). From the first line "The trees have to be tied down by sunset. When the Woodsmen come, they always try to run." I was taken in, and basically lost myself in this world...bye bye saturday plans, I couldn't put this down.
Action, magic, monsters, political intrigue, complicated relationships, betrayal, mythology, romance, its all there. Her writing and storytelling is spellbinding. She harnesses a wild, intense, and often gritty plot with the most beautiful metaphors and language. I had all the angst and all the feels. I want more!

This was a perfect 5 Star read all across the board: Great multi-layered complex characters? Check. Incredible World Building and "feel the frost on your fingertips" settings and descriptions? Check. Well balanced and gripping plot? Check. Incredible writing? Check. All the feels? Double Check.

Obviously I'm a huge fan: Technically this book doesn't go on sale until tomorrow, so I couldn't hand-sell it today, but I did "handsell" all 5 copies we got onto "customer holds" for tomorrow.

Was this review helpful?

There is a lot to love about this story. First, you an adult retelling. What isn't to love about that? Then you have the intricate cultures established within the story itself. It was spectacular and so fun and interesting to read. The story and premise were incredibly promising. Then you have a love interest who isn't your typical "super hot and flawless" guy. He's got flaws. Your main character ends up saving him a few times. However, the story fell short for me when I noticed that there isn't much growth or development between the characters. They are either arguing or flirting and not speaking for days. I don't think there is a clear point when they begin to develop feelings, they just suddenly do and then don't again. It was fun, but has quite a few issues that were sometimes a bit irritating to read. They are also supposed to be 25, but I feel they read more YA.

Was this review helpful?

I heard a lot of chatter about this book, so it isn’t surprising that I jumped this book to the front of my TBR. Also, I wanted to include this in my Jewish American Heritage Month reading, and I have absolutely no regrets about it. Even if my NetGalley deadlines are suffering a little for this. It was worth it.

The story was a little slow moving at first. I liked Évike’s character from the start, especially since there’s something about an underdog that I can’t help but love. She’s an outcast with no magic in a village that basically worships magic, relies on it for survival. My heart broke for her right away, but she’s clearly a tough character, which is something that I love.

Gáspár was a character that took me a little more time to warm up to. He’s a lot more closed off and hard to read, but since the story is told from Évike’s POV, we don’t really find out what’s going on in his head until he says it out loud (or shows it). He did grow on me over the course of the book, morphing from a brutal, cold Woodsman to an actual human with his own struggles and goals, and we get to see the lengths that he’s willing to go to create positive changes in the kingdom that he loves.

The writing was absolutely stunning. For a good portion of the beginning of the book, the two characters are traveling through sparsely populated areas of the country. The way that the surroundings, and especially sunsets are described are so incredibly vivid. I’ve never really seen writing that was this evocative and enchanting, making me feel as if I was right there with the characters, experiencing every single thing with them. While the traveling could have gotten boring, the writing, action scenes, and tension between the characters kept me interested throughout the book.

Jewish culture and traditions are depicted throughout the story, which was very welcomed. I loved seeing how some things haven’t changed at all — how we celebrate holidays, our focus on education, and the welcoming nature of my people. However, it broke my heart to see how antisemitism continues to persist. The pressure to exert faith-based control hit very close to home — the Patrifaith’s desire to stamp out paganism and the Yehuli is a mirror of Christianity through the ages, but with a fantasy spin.

Overall, I loved how the story unfolded. The action, the romance, the magic system, and the complex bonds that develop between the characters definitely pushed this story right to the top of my list of books I’ve fallen in love with this year. Beware though, this story has a lot of gore, including self-mutilation. It’s a great read, but it can be a little tough at times. If you can handle the content warnings, it’s definitely worth it.

Was this review helpful?

Born without magic, Évike is an outcast of her pagan village, so when Woodsmen arrive demanding they give up a precious Seer—a wolf girl—for their king, they disguise Évike as a Seer and send her instead. However, on their way to take her to the king, their party is attacked by monsters, leaving only Évike and the one-eyed captain named as the survivors. Now, in order to survive, the two of them form a reluctant alliance.

Steeped in Jewish mythology and Hungarian history, The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid is an utterly enchanting and richly-woven fantasy. It’s incredible how well-crafted and well-throughout the story’s worldbuilding and lore are. The author delicately navigates the clashing of cultures and both explores the power of myth as well as how myths can intersect across cultures.

I guess it’s only fitting that a story so rooted in myths also reads like an old epic poem itself. The writing is earthy and unflinchingly gruesome and, at times, also beautifully tender. In the acknowledgements, the author lists Hozier and Florence and the Machine (my two favorite artists) as part of her writing playlist, and I can feel that.

Lastly, I have to talk about the relationship dynamic of the two main characters, which I absolutely adored. Évike is a fierce and stubborn huntress and Gáspár is a pious man dedicated to his faith. They’re like fire and ice. On top of that, they’re also mortal enemies. However, I enjoyed watching the tension between the two and seeing Gáspár slowly let his guard down and seeing the two of them gradually grow a mutual respect for each other.

Complete with multi-faceted characters and intricate lore, this book helped me remember what it’s like to truly sink into a good fantasy book again. This is a stunningly gorgeous and emotionally compelling debut, and I’m excited to see what other books Ava Reid has in store in the future.

Was this review helpful?

Ava Reid has created a world in The Wolf and the Woodsman that is compelling and atmospheric and full of intrigue. The role of women in this book is strong and full of a fierceness that's not only traditional, but incredibly empowering. The romance between the main characters is just the right amount of tension but is also so natural that you almost don't see it coming. It adds depth to an already captivating story. The story of a wolf-girl being captured by woodsmen as a sacrifice for her community and their journey to battling a strong oppressor and his following kept me turning pages well into the night. It reminded me in places of Game of Thrones in its unexpected, twists and turns way but also in a way that showcased faith as both a pillar and as a source of conflict.

Was this review helpful?

What a great historical fantasy epic! I haven’t read a fantastical tale like this in a long time, and I was very swept away by it all. Loved, loved, loved the enemies-to-lovers storyline.
I would recommend that the pronunciation guide be moved to the beginning, as it would make a good introduction to a lot of the names and characters. Also, a note explaining the historical and mythological aspects of the story would be awesome and help to make the world a little more relatable.

Was this review helpful?

I received an ARC from the publisher and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own.

The Wolf and the Woodsman first drew my attention due to comparisons made to The Bear and the Nightingale, and my curiosity was further piqued when I heard about this book’s influences in Hungarian history and Jewish folklore. The result is a darkly beautiful story with allegories for relevant historical and socio-political issues such as antisemitism and ethnic cleansing.

While I’m neither Hungarian nor Jewish, I found the way these elements colored both the world building and Évike’s identity very compelling. She is half-pagan, half-Yehul, and her kingdom is hostile to both identities. And in spite of being pagan, she doesn’t have magic, which is deeply valued.

A betrayal leads to her being offered as the sacrifice to the Woodsmen, and through a series of misfortunes, ultimately, it’s just her and disgraced Crown Prince Gáspar who form an alliance against his half-brother. While romance isn’t at the forefront, it is a fairly well-executed enemies-to-lovers subplot, as they grapple with their mutual mistrust and religious differences, the latter of which is explored sensitively.

I enjoyed this book a lot, from the immersive descriptions of the woods to the characters, plot, and politics. It has something that will appeal to pretty much every fantasy reader, and especially those who loved The Bear and the Nightingale.

Was this review helpful?