The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid is a fantastic new tale. Ava Reid wraps new lore in with Jewish mythology inspiration to create a wonderful book.
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.
All quotes are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect quotes in the published version.
“Our gods don’t ask us for perfection.”
This book weaves stories within stories and a slow burn romance to die for. Everything about this fantasy pulls from some of my favorite religious-based enemies to lovers’ tropes. This says something about my specific brand of religious trauma, I’m sure. This story was truly something unique, though. While it’s easy to compare it to many other tales, it stands firmly on its own with its use of storytelling. Evike tells stories to pass the time, to enlighten others, and to learn herself. Her idea of the gods and the way the Woodsmen have similar stories smack of similarities we experience in real life.
“Witch or wolf-girl, I am with you.”
Something that surprised me about this book, was the gore. I love good body horror, and this book has it in settings that jar you from folkloric storytelling. It’s startling, at first, and nauseating. It makes this book have more depth than I originally expected it to. This is most certainly not a YA book, and should not be mistaken as such. The way the world was built and the magic explained made sense to me. Magic built around body horror was understandable from the jump. It also made way for interesting character growth, asking what it is one would sacrifice for the other.
“Would you let me destroy you, then?”
There were moments the plot seemed to lull for me. Books that seem to focus primarily on the journey from one place to the other tend to drag on. This book did experience that to an extent. At times, it felt like the book could have simply been shorter. However, these instances did make room for more of the slow burn romance. It’s a double-edged sword. The way that religion, shame, magic, and Jewish mythology were all wrapped up in this book was fascinating. I can’t wait to read more from Ava Reid.
“If there is anyone I would damn my soul for,” Gaspar says, “it would be you.”
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.