Book review: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

Published June 8th 2021 by Del Rey


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.

My rating:

Some pre-review facts about my reading experience of The Wolf and the Woodsman:

– Judging by the vocabulary at the end I pronounced half of the names the wrong way, lol;
– I absolutely love the mythology and pagan myth, and the clash of religions.
– Gaspar, the main love interest, is the most guileless and blushing pal I’ve ever encountered. Seriously.

I remember how the fire roared to life in front of the captain, so sudden and sure. Any wolf-girl would have marveled at such a fire, easily as impressive as the work of our best fire-makers. We would have called it power, magic. They called it piety. But what is the difference, if both fires burn just as bright?

The Wolf and the Woodsman makes quite a difference with its elaborate Pagan myths and the difference between religion and the absence of one. Actually, I would underline the main thread that goes throughout the story: how the same powers are represented in different cultures. Zealous fanatics or faithless Pagans – doesn’t really matter who one is praying to; it all comes down to men and power. Use it or abuse it and you can create or destroy.

I am in awe with Ava Reid’s writing style; how atmospheric it was – my favorite element. I absolutely adored how she has woven the elements of myth into the core of the story, made it the bone of the story on which the meat with tendons and blood vessels were growing.

It’s brutal, dark, and cruel. Expect lots of gore and no tender ministrations. Mutilations, self-harm, brutality are striking but so very fitting for the story’s format. We are in the Wild, with creatures of legends surrounding us. They do not want to tell us stories, they want to devour us.

Antisemitism is one of the central topics. I am applauding to Ava for so bravery pointing at the parts that have been staining our history for generations. This history is not very different from our history: there’s always power and the question of who yields it and who gets under the sword.

The only sour seed for me in the story is the lack of some vital development. I did have questions about some dubious plot moves or characters’ behavior. The story felt erratic at times, jumping from one thing to another, without giving a reasonable enough explanation.

Évike, the main character, was too brazen to the point of annoyance. Also, girl, do you have a self-preservation mode?

Gáspár, the love interest, who showed a lot of potential at the beginning, did not manage to get out of Pampers till the end. The most blushing and guileless hero I’ve ever encountered. The sad thing, I never saw his transformation on the pages: he was trembling and pious until the end, never getting out of his father’s or brother’s shadow. Of course, it’s my opinion and I might be a little bit harsh, but it is how I am with my heroes in books; they do not get to cheat or they would miss more than one eye.
Sorry Gáspár, but your balls are missing as well.

Still, I would highly recommend this promising debut to anyone who is fond of beautiful poetic writing filled with the dark, wild myth inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology that creates an unforgettable vibe you will remember long after finishing the book.

Fans of Katherine Arden and Naomi Novik will indeed appreciate it!

2 thoughts on “Book review: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

  1. Stephanie - Bookfever

    “Sorry Gáspár, but your balls are missing as well.” 😂 I still need to read this book but I’m somehow really intrigued now. 😂

    Liked by 2 people

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