I’ve been reading back to back darker, atmospheric fantasy lately—my saving grace amidst a nearly two-month long reading slump. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres, and I tend to gravitate towards the darker variety (of any genre, really). But this summer seems to be the summer of dark fantasy and I’m loving it. My latest read was a haunting debut full myths and magic and monsters, inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish folklore. Without further ado, here are 5 reasons why you should read The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid.
1. The immersive world building. Reid crafted a rich world with fascinating lore and folktales. A pagan village where magic is revered. Woodsmen who come every few years to claim a girl to be sacrificed to the king. A magic system based on body horror. A journey to capture the turul; a mythological bird. It’s an epic, sweeping world of gods and monsters and the folly of kings.
2. Enemies to lovers. The romance was a subplot, but it was without a doubt my favorite aspect of the book—not just because enemies to lovers is my favorite trope, but because of how well it was done. Évike is a hardened, wild girl who is rightfully angry at the world after all the abuse she suffered. She’s fierce and a little mean; rough around the edges—my favorite kind of heroine. Her counterpart is a disgraced prince on his knees. He’s a tortured soul seeking redemption. He also happens to be the Woodsman captain tasked with taking Évike as a blood sacrifice for the king…his father. Their journey is steeped in angst and tension, and it’s so good.
3. Historical parallels. I learned a lot about Hungary’s violent history reading this book. Genocide, ethnic cleansing, and religious conflict. It was horrific and difficult to read at times, but a critical part of the book. Reid wanted to shine light on the oppression and marginalization experienced by ethno-religious minorities, and she pulled no punches.
4. Evocative writing and vivid imagery. It’s atmospheric and dark and haunting, taking us from eerie woodlands where monsters lurked, through frozen tundras and glacial lakes, to a dangerous city where the real monsters resided. I felt like I was transported right into the world, traveling along earthly and icy plains with our protagonists.
5. Jewish #ownvoices. I rarely ever see Jewish representation in fantasy, so reading the Jewish culture and mythology woven into the story (the Yehuli people) was amazing.
Keep in mind that this is an adult dark fantasy with very grim and graphic content. If you like The Bear and the Nightingale, Spinning Silver, or The Witcher, pick up this book! Content warnings: gore, abuse, self harm, torture, genocide, antisemitism.
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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.