The Wolf and the Woodsman
Nina and Matthias walked so Évike and Gáspár could…well, not run, but fall through the ice I guess?
Évike is a wolf-girl from a pagan village in a forest of moving trees. She’s bullied by Katalin, and raised by Virág after her mother was taken by the Woodsman, a holy order of monster-slayers that answer to the king and their God. When the Woodsman come for Katalin, because she’s a seer, Évike is sent in her stead. With no abilities of her own, and in a borrowed wolf-cloak, Évike must make her way to the capital - and towards her father, a Nehuli man she barely remembers - likely to her death to save her village.
I’m sure we all know how I like to structure my reviews, so here we go.
First of all, this was a lot to include in one book. I think it would have worked a lot better if it was split into two books, so the world and the plot could be established a little more. I would argue for making it longer, but that can turn off a lot of readers (unless it’s SJM’s rabid fanbase, apparently). There was a lot of world-building, and a lot of jumping locations that I feel would benefit from SLOWING down the pace. Like, a lot. I blinked and Évike was recounting the past few weeks while she and Gáspár wandered into the snow-blanketed lands of Kaleva. Then there’s the sprawling plotpoints: Tuula and Szabín, the turul, Évike in the city, Évike and her father, Évike and her magic, Évike and her literacy, Nándor and his vie for the throne. There’s so much between the covers of this book that would have greatly benefitted in the whole thing slowing down to give you a much better drawn out story.
The romance of the book would also have benefitted from a splitting. It isn’t an insta-romance, but it was pretty damn close. Don’t get me wrong, I’m rooting for them, but there is no reason Évike should go along with Gáspár, even with his vague-ass princely promises, and the reasons that are given are weak at best. She’s been bullied her whole life, why shouldn’t she turn around and go back? Worst case scenario is that they continue to bully her. Also, bullying? When your character is 25, it makes her and everyone participating seem so much younger than you tell me they are.
Speaking of characterization, what the fuck was up with Virág and the king? It was like Reid didn’t know if she wanted her readers to sympathize or hate them. That’s not what makes a character complex, though, especially when it’s details that aren’t so much sprinkled as they are heavily-handed to the reader in times of crisis. There was a lot of telling, and not a whole lot of showing. Évike also makes some VERY questionable decisions (turning on Gáspár in that fight by the lake, standing up to the king, being snippy with Nándor) that don‘t seem to fit within her character. Frankly, they’re stupid decisions, and we’ve been told she knows better.
The descriptions really weren’t it for me. There was a lot of needling, Gáspár‘s black eye, green rot, etc. At a certain point, you really start wanting the author to pick up a thesaurus. The same four descriptions, and the same five words, do not make a novel good; they make it repetitive, and in some cases that can be a good thing. It’s not here. It’s like em-dashes: once someone starts pointing them out, you see them everywhere, and it takes you out of the story. There’s also parts where Évike is over-explaining things. We get it, Gáspár looks like THIS and the cold snow is like THIS. I know. You’ve told me three times already.
The epilogue grinds my fuckin‘ gears, let me tell you. After all of that - ALL OF THAT - you’re gonna leave me with this? Come on. COME ON. We have watched these characters struggle for 400 fucking pages. That’s not the ending the readers deserve.
What I did like was…not as much as I was hoping.
I love me a good book that clearly makes The Church™️ the bad guy. As a neopagan myself, I have a thing about the Catholic church and their whole mess. To each their own, but if Catholicism the Religion was a person, I’d fight them in a Walmart parking lot at 3am. THAT BEING SAID, I don’t hate Catholics. I just don’t like the Catholics (and other Christian sects) that are bad human beings. It’s not hard to do better. Anyway, yes, call their bullshit out! Love to see it.
The Jewish representation in the Yehuli I’m not going to comment much on, because I’m not Jewish. It’s not my place. If you want an opinion, look here, or find your own (Google is free). If you’d like information on Jewish culture, there’s a podcast I LOVE to listen to on my commutes called Jewitches run by Z (she/they) who also has a TikTok account under the same name. I will say, though, that there is a major trigger warning for VIOLENT antisemitism in this book.
I do ship Évike and Gáspár, even if I’m not a huge fan over the way their story played out, and especially not how it ended. I think they deserved better, because they reminded me so much of Nina and Matthias from Six of Crows, and lord knows fans of that duology deserve a happy ending for characters like Nina and Matthias. Évike and Gáspár had so much potential, and I believe in anyone (fanfiction writers, we’re looking at you) who can dip into that.
There were a couple of gay couples (let’s hear it for the sapphics!), which in 2021 is nothing really surprising. Tuula and Szabín are a nice foil for Évike and Gáspár, and Katalin and Boróka are just kinda thrown into the epilogue (did I mention how much I hate the epilogue?). Good job, I guess, on making some side characters gay. :/
I really liked the story parts. Évike telling them to Gáspár and learning Yehuli tales were a really nice touch. It tied all the disparate parts of the story together…not strongly, but enough I suppose. I wish there had been more. Reid could’ve made such a creative mark on her story if she had made a couple more risky moves, but it’s fine.
I guess that’s my overall point: the book was fine. I went in with really high hopes because I couple of BookTokers I trust with my whole life recommended it (one of them even rated it 5 stars), but I felt a little let down. I wanted so much more, and there’s so much potential here. I’m not going to yuck anyone’s yum, don’t worry, but this one really wasn’t it for me. I just wanted more, and there was so much that took away what was great about the story.
Trigger warnings: gore, violence, self-harm, animal death, antisemitism, blood, sexual content, religious intolerance, injury detail, death of a parent, death, fire/fire injury, injury/injury detail, torture, war, animal cruelty, hate crime, murder, physical abuse, racism, religious bigotry, sexual content, bullying, classism
⛈⛈⛈🌧☁️ (3.75 but w/e)