Book Review – The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Content Warnings >>>

dismemberment, amputation, mutilation, whipping, self-harm, antisemitism, ethnic cleansing, cultural genocide, physical abuse by parental figures/parents, vomiting, animal death, torture.

Above everything, The Wolf and the Woodsman is about the power of stories, how they shape and mold us — how they can soothe us and yet pierce our hearts all the same, how they’re both used as balms and propaganda. So many myths and tales inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology are entwined into Évike and Gáspár’s journey — it’s no secret that the path to my heart is through them, and I loved nothing more than discovering this new-to-me folklore. Ava Reid’s words lulled me until the real world disappeared — they reached into my soul and tugged. I would recommend this novel for these stories alone — but they’re only one of its numerous appeals.

If you stare long enough into the darkness of the forest, eventually something will stare right back.

But The Wolf and the Woodsman is also very much about trauma, both personal and generational; about oppression, persecution and ethnic cleansing — about survival through it all. It’s graphically violent at times — I mean, Ava Reid said that she pitched this book as having a “magic system based on body horror,” and it doesn’t shy away from gore — but perhaps the scenes that affected me the most were the ones that alluded to the pain one feels when belonging somewhere doesn’t seem to be an option. How to build oneself when rejection is waiting everywhere, when colonization and war work hand in hand with the aim of erasing your roots and heritage? As a biracial woman whose family stories were forever lost in violence and heartache, I’ve been asking this question to myself for a very long time, and it cut deeply in me in a way I didn’t know was possible. Maybe that’s why seeing Évike take back both her Yehuli and pagan heritages meant the world to me. If the parallels with Jewish history are obvious, and heartbreaking, I appreciated the anti-zionist message and the way religion was handled, too.

We kept no mirrors in Keszi, but I would spend hours kneeling at the riverside, watching my reflection crease and wrinkle like it was an embroidery on silk, puzzling over whether my nose belonged to my mother or my father, and what it would mean either way. There was no answer that didn’t hurt to swallow. I almost tell him that, before I remember that he’s no friend of mine.

Served with compelling writing and lush imagery — the scenic quality is wonderful, and the settings a living thing in more ways than one — The Wolf and the Woodsman pictures characters I’ll always keep close to my heart and whose slow growth was fantastic.

  • Raised in a place that holds magic above everything, Évike thrives to belong somewhere. Despite all the bullying she faced her whole life, she’s so fierce and strong — I love her so, so much. The way she grows into herself and flourishes throughout the novel appeased a secret place of my heart and I will never forget her.
“I don’t think the hawk is evil,” Gáspár says after a moment. “But I’m not a mouse.”
“And thank Isten you aren’t,” I say. “Mice don’t have the luxury of passing moral judgment on every living thing they come across. Mice just get eaten.”
  • Gáspár‘s gentle, tortured soul carved a place into my heart and I felt so much for him. He’s gone through his fair share of bullying and if his title of prince acts as a smoke screen at first it’s obvious that he craves love just as much as Évike. No matter how he tries at times, he can never hide how very soft he is. My god.

Their romance is fraught with many hurdles and I adored it to pieces : their banter is a delight, they’re so stubborn, yet so very loyal and protective — I rooted for them entirely too soon, but hey, I can’t resist enemies to friends to lovers done right, okay? Évike and Gáspár’s chemistry is palpable and the way they slowly start caring about each other is perfectly paced — this is how you write a believable and tremendously enjoyable romance. Please take notes.

“You have the uncommon ability to make me doubt what I once thought was certain,” he says. “I’ve spent the last fortnight fearing you would destroy me. You may still.”
  • But Évike and Gáspár are not the only ones to set foot in this story, and the fact that no character — villain or otherwise — is one-dimensional is one of my favorite aspect of the novel. Indeed even though we’re not meant to like every one of them — and I certainly hated some of them with passion — the reasoning behind their actions is complex and believable, even when we can’t condone or forgive them. There’s nothing I despise more than villains that are simplistically evil and flat, and I really appreciated the layers Ava Reid gave to every one of her characters, villains included. 

Bottom Line : The Wolf and the Woodsman has so much to offer, and I can’t recommend it enough. The ending left me breathless – it’s open in a way that could have been uncomfortable, but it feels right, and it will stay with me for a very long time.

About The Wolf and the Woodsman

Author : Ava Reid | Publisher : Del Rey | Genre : Adult Fantasy | Pages : 448

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.

8 thoughts on “Book Review – The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

  1. I totally forgot that this one was releasing! It sounds so good, definitely want to read it!
    Great review 🙂

  2. I love your review! I have this one coming soon and now you have me anticipating its arrival. I am looking forward to the romance. Enemies to friends to lovers? Yes please.

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