Author: Ava Reid
Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld
Audiobook Length: 13 hours 10 minutes
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.
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.
The Wolf and the Woodsman blends Jewish mythology with Hungarian history, which intrigued me a lot, as I do not have a lot of prior knowledge for either. I adore stories that take either mythology or historical events and blend them into its own unique tale and this one was definitely an enjoyable experience. On top of this, the novel also features adults within the fairy-tale/fantasy-like setting, which was a refreshing take as it gave a new twist on tales that typically feature young adult/teenage main characters. The names/places were a little difficult to pronounce, at least for me, so I loved that there was a map and a pronunciation guide in the print version and I loved that the audiobook version followed the guide and made everything sound natural. The narrator for the audiobook in general did an amazing job with the entire story and characters.
Évike is a 25-year-old, wolf-girl, and the only one without seer powers in her pagan village. When the Order of the Woodsmen, who serve the King, come to the village seeking a seer, they sacrifice Évike as she is an outcast and they do not wish to give up the real ones. Évike knows that this sacrifice can only end in death as her mother suffered from the same fate when she was taken 10 years prior. Évike’s character was one that I sympathized with, as she was an outcast for being different and was greatly bullied by the others. Her only wish was to find a place to belong and I loved her composure and maturity as she kept it together when many people would not.
The Woodsman who took Évike is Gáspár. Not only is he a Woodsman, but he is also the first in line to the throne as the King’s only legitimate son. He does not feel that he is good enough for his family, suffered his own abuses, and only wishes for the world to be at peace. Since the story is told only from Évike’s perspective, Gáspár was a very mysterious character. The reader has to either infer details about his character or wait until they are revealed, which at times was frustrating as I was impatient and wanted to learn more. However, the story is written in a way that each piece of his character as it fits the story so the reader gets to learn all of the secrets at the same time as Évike.
Both main characters were well written and morally grey. Their relationship, given each of their backgrounds, made a lot of sense. The way the two of them began to get to know the other felt very natural. Their characters were an enemy to friends to lovers’ story with a well-written progression that fit the setting and personalities. Their circumstances in the story dictated many of their actions, so there was a lot of tension for them to move past the enemy stage.
The story follows the emotional journeys of both characters and both of them trying to do the right thing for the kingdom. There is a lot of action and the morality of their decisions was very complex. The world itself was very vivid and had a lot of depth where it was not difficult to picture everything in my head. The pacing of the story was decent, although some moments felt a little slower than, I thought, they should have been. However, it was enjoyable and I wanted to learn how everything would come together.
Overall, this was a fantastic debut novel by Ava Reid! The journeys that both of the characters go to through for their survivals and identities was very captivating. Although there was complexity to the novel, there was also a simplicity and the reader can follow along easily. The writing in this story has definitely intrigued me and I cannot wait to see what the author will come up with next, as I believe her next novel is set for 2023!