Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: June 8th, 2021
Pages: 418, hardcover
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 was a bit of mixed bag. The beginning starts off really strong, with Évike’s village preparing for the arrival of the Woodsmen, holy soldiers who take one girl from the village to be given to the King. Reid throws us right into her world with the first line, informing us that the trees will run away when the Woodsmen come:
“The trees have to be tied down by sunset. When the Woodsmen come, they always try to run.”
For the beginning, I was fully thinking this would be a four or five star book. It reminded me of older McKinley or Yolen works. I did think Évike and the other girls her age read as a bit young; Évike is 25, but the dynamics and bullying she has to endure from some of the other girls her age made it seem like she was more in her late teens or very early twenties. This is an issue that stays with the book throughout. Évike never really came across as a 25 year old, just as a teenager. I’m not sure why I kept getting that impression, except that she was incredibly immature at times and acts in ways more suited to a teenager. I could ignore that, though, because I was in love with the world.
Then, well, Évike and Gáspár are the only two characters we’re with for at good long while, and the pacing–and story–sort of sputter to a slow crawl. I don’t mind character-driven books that move slowly. The problem I had was that, well, I could see why Reid was writing these scenes the way she did. She had to develop the relationship between the two leads; she had to introduce a plot device; she had to introduce two side characters. Maybe I’m not explaining this well, but she was never able to make me forget why she was writing these things, and it was very obviously set up for later plot. It felt a bit aimless and like she struggled with making it feel natural.
During this portion, Évike tells stories of her world, and this was something I enjoyed a lot. I don’t know anything about Hungarian mythology and it was great to first come across it in Reid’s writing. I’ve read other reviews that say this was boring and slowed the pace down again, and in a way, I can see how some readers would feel that way. There are, I think, at least three stories that Évike tells (I think Reid intentionally made it three to allude to the Rule of Three fairytale device). In my notes for this part I wrote down “starting to feel a little episodic” and I still stand by that. The events didn’t flow easily, as I said earlier.
(Big big spoiler for the ending here.) However… Reid has Évike lose the magical powers she’s only just developed in the novel as sacrifice for killing a sacred, mythical creature. While I agree this makes sense in the overall plot and world, I’m tired of female characters losing powers at the end of their arcs. It also made sense for Alina to lose her powers at the end of the Shadow and Bone trilogy, but it still feeds into a stereotypical story of how a powerful woman has to lose her powers at the end of whatever story she’s in. Either that, or she goes crazy from them. So again, while it makes sense, I’m still tired of seeing it happen. (End spoiler.)
Thankfully, if the reader can get through this part of the book, the middle and ending make up for a lot of the flaws. Reid finds her footing again as Évike tries to navigate a dangerous world and finds a family, and I loved all of this. The ending was great and had some amazing visuals that Reid was able to convey with her words. I could very easily see the things she was writing about, and it looked great in my mind.
So, when it’s on target, The Wolf and the Woodsman is spectacular, which is why it’s so noticeable and jarring when it loses itself a bit. Still, I enjoyed it enough to stick with it for 418 pages, and I’ll be looking into what Reid writes next.