Title: The Wolf and the Woodsman
Author: Ava Reid
Narrator(s): Saskia Maarleveld
Run Time: 13 hours, 10 minutes
Source: Finished Copy Provided by Publisher; Purchased (Audiobook Copy)
Trigger Warnings: Mutilation, self harm, gore and blood, abuse by a parental figure, ostracization, bullying and harassment, cultural genocide, ethnic cleansing, religious persecution, antisemitism allegory (NOTE: If you notice I’ve missed any trigger warnings, please inform me and I will add them)
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.
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
1. I received a finished copy of The Wolf and the Woodsman in advance of publication in exchange for an honest review. This has not affected my review and all opinions expressed in the following review are my own.
2. This post contains affiliate links for which I receive a small commission if you use them to purchase an item.
Hey there, friends! How’s it going? I hope you’re doing well and, if not, I hope better days head your way soon!
Well, pals, it would appear I’m just not having the best run of luck when it comes to reading lately, because I’m sad to admit that I’ve read another book that was a swing and a miss.
Now, I went into The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid expecting to be absolutely enchanted and to fall completely in love the book. So, of course, you can probably guess what happened next. Yes, that is correct, I was sorely disappointed.
The thing that really disappoints me about The Wolf and the Woodsman is that, despite the fact that I had a lot of issues with the book, I also could see how much amazing the potential the story had, and that Reid has as a writer. Unfortunately, I don’t think that potential was fully realized in The Wolf and the Woodsman. Let’s take a look at my thoughts…
plot & pacing
So, first off, if you’re typically a YA reader going into this book because you’re thinking it might be a YA/Adult crossover title with a faster pace and/or a more action-based plot than is typical for Adult fantasies, let me clear that up for you: it’s not. The Wolf and the Woodsman is very much an Adult fantasy book, not only in content, but also in pace and overall tone. This fact is actually tied into my main issue with the plot: the lack of consistent forward motion highlighted that the story seemed to consist mainly of a lot of filler events with little connection, instead of actual plot.
Evike and Gaspar spend the first half of the book traveling and it just felt like nothing that occurred during this section was truly essential to the story. To be fair, maybe it was just me and my personal tastes because I tend to despise traveling/journey plotlines? But, for instance, the first half of the novel is spent traveling north in search of a magical object, only to turn around without having found the object in question and go somewhere totally different and unrelated in order to do things which are also unrelated to said artifact. WHAT WAS THE POINT?!?!! And yes—at the tail end of the book, the artifact is found by Evike and Gaspar in the place they traveled to in the first half, but there was still no reason why the first journey was essential to the story! And the problem is that this is just one example of plotlines that felt inessential to the story.
I also had some major issues with the climax and resolution, which I won’t go into except to say that there was an obscene amount of plot armor utilized, topped off with deus ex machina.
I’ll admit that in all honesty Evike wasn’t a character who I clicked with. She struck me as childishly petulant and reckless and while I understood her emotional motivations for acting in such a way, her behavior also didn’t feel particularly…smart?…for someone who was the survivor of a brutal life for some twenty-five-ish years? Like, there were so many instances where Evike literally thought to herself, “I know I shouldn’t do or say what I’m about to…” before going ahead and doing exactly that anyway, oftentimes purely out of petulant spite. A lot of the things Evike said and did ended up frustrating me not only because they weren’t the result of smart decisions, but also because she clearly knew better!!
Unfortunately, I wasn’t too big a fan of Gaspar either, for both personal reasons and technical, writing-based reasons.
First off, I didn’t really personally gel with him as a character. I think this was largely because, nine times out of ten, Gaspar failed to stand by the principles he clearly believed in when those principles were put to the test. It wasn’t just that this moral cowardice (for lack of a better term) made me dislike him, it also made it difficult for me to understand why a character like Evike—who was so passionate about her own morals—would ever fall for someone like him.
Second off, I feel like, ultimately, Gaspar’s characterization was inconsistent. As I mentioned in my previous point, for nearly all of the book, Gaspar fails to stand by his morals and doesn’t stand up for himself or for anyone else. In only one instance is it even implied that Gaspar is holding back in regards to his physical strength and standing up to the villain of the story. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, at the tail end of the book during the climax of the story, Gaspar decides he wants to stand up to the villain and stand by what he believes is morally right. It just felt out of left field when the entirety of the book had been spent driving home the fact that such actions are antithetical to the person who Gaspar had consistently proved to be.
I hate to say this, but save for the villain serving their role as, ya know, the villain, each and every one of the side characters in this book seemed entirely pointless. None of them served to highlight Evike’s or Gaspar’s personalities through showing their own unique traits and none of them served to spur any sort of personal realization and/or growth in our main two characters. They were all very much just…there. Case in point: what on earth were Tuula’s and Szabin’s purposes??? They literally just lived in the north and had a bear as a pet. Aaaand that was it. Even the villain felt hollow, with no mentioning of how or why he evolved to be who he is. It was frustrating to have such a purposeless secondary cast when these characters could’ve served to add an extra layer of richness and depth to the story.
world building & atmosphere
Okay, so I know it may seem like I didn’t like anything about this book, but I promise that’s not true! I did really enjoy the world building and atmosphere! Reid based the world and cultures of The Wolf and the Woodsman on Jewish and Hungarian cultures and it is very clear that she put a lot of care and research and genuine love into doing so. What results is a rich and intricately woven world, which feels ready to spring to life in front of your eyes. The way Reid infuses her imagery and storytelling with cultural references is *chef’s kiss*!
All in all, I’m sad to say this book just wasn’t for me. I went in expecting to adore The Wolf and the Woodsman, and I’m pretty bummed that it didn’t work out. That being said, I still do see some promise in Reid’s writing. Despite my quibbles with her debut novel, I have a feeling that with time Reid will grow into an impressive author. Having admitted this, I will also say that I want to keep an eye on her works going forward, so I’m definitely willing to give her future books a chance.
if you enjoyed the wolf and the woodsman, check out these books…
- If you enjoy the atmosphere of The Wolf and the Woodsman, try Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
- If you liked the themes of The Wolf and the Woodsman, check out Mirage by Somaiya Daud
- If you fell for the slow burn enemies-to-lovers romance in The Wolf and the Woodsman, give Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft a chance
spill the beans, friends!
- Have you read The Wolf and the Woodsman?
- If so, what are your thoughts on it?
- If not, is it on your TBR?
- What are some books you think are similar to The Wolf and the Woodsman?