The Wolf and the Woodsman
by Ava Reid
Book copy compared this with Arden’s Bear & the Nightingale and Novik’s Spinning Silver….hmmm….not quite the same. Although as a huge fan of both those works I did see some similarities.
However, Gaspar is no Fey or Winter King. He’s the epitome of a beta hero and mostly seems to exist to be beautiful and tragic. I often found myself kind of skipping over his backstory parts because they didn’t seem to make sense to me– why he would let his father the King maim him, make him outcast, and then ride around stealing wolf girls from the pagan village where our main heroine, Evike, lives.
And I also didn’t quite believe the heavy handed abuse of Evike herself. The depiction of her love/hate relationship with the hag Virag kind of made sense– Virag rescued her when others would have tossed her out in the snow and some of the beatings were meant to toughen her up. But the other wolf girls, especially Katarin, were incredible cruel in a way that just doesn’t speak to me anymore. Cruelty and ridicule in situations where adults would have at least pretended to rein them in.
Evike is taken from her small village by the King’s Woodsmen, followers of the monotheistic Prinkepatrios, in the capitol city where also dwell the Yehuli, a follower of a different monotheistic god tradition (this is a thinly veiled Eastern European Christian/Jew/pagan culture).
Although she is being taken to certain death, the magical woods through which they travel takes out most of Evike’s guards and causes her and the remaining one to become close. (Why were the Woodsmen, trained soldiers supposedly used to the woods taken so by surprise by the monsters? I mean, wow they went fast)
There’s a lot of traveling and cuddling by fire, and talking about the politics of the kingdom and the King’s simultaneous rejection/use of pagan magic to keep his power despite being at war. Evike is torn by warring loyalties– some of the most interesting parts– and comes to a deeper understanding of folks from the different cultural traditions.
There’s a bad guy undermining the King whose powers are never quite explained, just like the differentiation between the magics in this seem blurry and inconsistent. Some people get magic from cutting off body parts, some get it from studying, some seem to get it from wearing dead bits of magical creatures. I wished for some framework to hang it all on to compare and understand.
I did end up rooting for Evike in the end, and liked her delicious moral quandries brought on by her loyalty to her Yehuli father, wolf-girls, and fight against the bad guy, but I don’t think I’m tempted to continue if any sequels would appear.