The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid
Inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology, a story of magic and faith, storytelling and tradition, belonging and violence, in which a pagan woman is betrayed by her village and thrust into a hostile world where a vengeful cleric seeking religious purity has risen to power.
TITLE: The Wolf and the Woodsman
AUTHOR: Ava Reid
PUBLISHER: Harper Voyager
LENGTH: 432 pages
*I received a free review copy in exchange for an honest review of this book.
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Minor Character(s).
THE WOLF AND THE WOODSMAN is an enemies-to-lovers tale filled with bickering and tender moments of wound-care. It luxuriates in tense conversation, short back-and-forth dialogues punctuated by stony silence and snow. The MC’s narrative ruminations on her traveling companion deftly show what she thinks of him while leaving room for something more in his body language that an interested reader might puzzle out. They fill the silence in a way that ensures the reader is never left alone, even while the MC is trapped in her head, relentlessly pondering the meaning of every word, silence, and gesture from the Woodsman. They are drawn together by a strangely aligned goals that have, at minimum, a destination in common for both of them. Once at this destination, the narrative opens somewhat while still keeping focus on the weight of words and the way they can twist in an instant from toying to cruel, from mild interest to genuine warmth. Its slowly widening scope introduces the political tightrope the MC must traverse. Here it becomes apparent that amid all that travel, banter, and attempts to not fall in love was a lot of very important information about the power structure and current state of the kingdom and its leader. I really like political structures in fantasy, and therefore was very interested in this one, but it isn’t a politically dense book. It conveyed really well essential social information in a seemingly inconsequential manner before the MC arrived in locations where she needed to use that knowledge, and I appreciate how well it was worked in.
One of the strengths of this as an enemies-to-lovers story was that the MC and the eventual love interest had pretty good reasons to dislike each other as kinds of people, but not to already hate each other specifically, which made the transformation from ire to romance feel believable but not rushed. A lot of really excellent emotional groundwork and world-building was laid in the first half of the book, which meant that the second half could carefully subvert some (but not all) of those expectations and play with their implications in some really great ways. I feel a little as though that’s just how good books work, but the first and second half feel so distinct to me. Each had their own unique flavor which made the whole book sing. The world building is really good. I like the way that there were canonically several paths to magic, all of which are different in their particulars but involve some combination of access, mastery, and sacrifice. The MC begins the book thinking that she is unable to use the path that everyone has been expecting her to have. she finds her way into the path that’s good for her; not wholly new ground, something recognizable to those around her even if her specific blend is a bit strange.
*Quick note because some people try and label this as a retelling. It's not, in case you were wondering.
CW for ableism (minor), bullying, kidnapping, homophobia (minor), racism, antisemitism, religious bigotry, blood, gore, vomit, sexual content, physical abuse, domestic abuse (backstory), emotional abuse, self harm, murder, torture, cannibalism (not depicted), animal death, parental death, child death, death (graphic).