REVIEW: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

Trigger warnings for gore, violence, abuse, amputation, torture, war themes, animal death, and cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing

In her forest-veiled pagan village, twenty-five-year-old Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. 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. En route to the capital, most of the Woodsmen are killed and Évike is forced to rely on the one-eyed captain Gáspár. As they travel together Évike learns about why the King coverts pagan magic, how the throne is under threat from an illegitimate son, and how the fate of the throne can have disastrous affects on her village, and her father and his people who she never really knew.

After reading and loving the Winternight trilogy I thought I’d continue the wintery, forest, Eastern/Central European-inspired trend and finally read The Wolf and the Woodsman after recieiving it in a subscription box a couple of years ago. Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy The Wolf and the Woodsman as much as the Winternight trilogy, and perhaps I shouldn’t have read these stories almost back to back as it’s easy to draw some comparisons.

The Wolf and the Woodsman is a standalone adult fantasy story that is inspired by Hungarian and Jewish folklore and history. Religion plays a big part in this story and there’s three different faiths that are often in conflict. There’s Patrifaith which is the stand-in for Christianity and is naturally the one that causes the most issues as they leaders of this faith are convinced they’re the ones with the true God and want to wipe out those of other faiths and blame them for any of the country’s problems. Then there are the pagans which is pretty self-explanatory, and they do their best to keep to themselves, and Yehuli which represents Judaism in this fantasy world, and the have a community in the capital city that’s under threat by the Patrifaith and all their rules that restrict them. One thing I did like about the various faiths is that some people from each faith had magic of some sort, showing that there was no one right religion or God and that all these religions could have some truth to them.

The use of folktales throughout The Wolf and the Woodsman were interesting though sometimes it felt a bit repetitive as Évike seemed to have a story for every occasion. These stories acted as fables or warnings and it was interesting to see how there was sometimes crossover and similarities in the various religions when it comes to their stories.

Évike is wonderfully stubborn and closed off and she’s not always a likeable character. She’s been hurt and abused growing up so she’s quick to say cutting remarks in order to protect herself. the thing about Évike that I couldn’t wrap my head around is how much she wants to protect a village where everyone (bar one person) has shunned her and many have been cruel and abused her since she was a child because of her lack of magic. Perhaps I’m more petty than Évike but the village and its people didn’t deserve her loyalty and protection, and how she could continue to try and save them when practically no one was ever remotely kind to her was wild to me. I did like how Évike fought to find her own identity as she learnt more about her Yehuli father and that side of her heritage and how that clashed with or complimented her pagan upbringing.

Évike and Gáspár end up bonding because of their loneliness and abuse they’ve faced at the hands of those that are supposed to care for them. Their relationship is an enemies-to-lovers one and while it feels rushed to begin with, in the latter half of the book when they have more of an understanding of one another, it does come across as a believable relationship.

The Wolf and the Woodsman is one of those books that when I was reading it, I read a lot and was happy to continue reading, but it wasn’t a book that I was desperate to pick up again the next day or whatever. While it has interesting concepts and Hungarian and Jewish folklore/mythology isn’t something I’d really seen incorporated in a fantasy setting before so I enjoyed that, the scheming in the royal court didn’t particularly interest me and that made up pretty much the second half of the book. 3/5.

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