BOOK REVIEW: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava ReidThe Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid
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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 hand curls around the hilt of my knife. “Would you let me destroy you, then?”
“It would be just as well,” Gáspár says miserably. “I should be struck dead, for wanting you the way I do.”

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I get excited when a close friend can’t recommend a book enough. We share quotes, pre-swoon, and just altogether talk about what might work or not work going forward, for me. These moments are when I get the most eager to try something new and step out of my narrow-minded little box, the moments when I want to take risks and find new favorites since I haven’t been in the reading game near as much in the last four years. Sometimes it pays off, and other times it falls flat. But here, with this book, it was one of the shakiest successes I’ve come around to in a while.

That’s not to say it wasn’t excellent-that’s the point. It was excellent. It was so excellent it physically hurt me to not five star it. But, with all the things, there is balance. I loved so many moments, but the others, the parts that pained my soul, they dragged me down to a darker place that is much harder to drag myself out of. And those are the moments that halted my enjoyment, that strangled my breathing not in the way I love, like with a slow burn romance coming to fruition, but with deep agonizing sadness that I couldn’t see past. Which is just so silly… but triggers are triggers for a reason, even if mine are very far different from others.

A bear is an enemy I can more easily understand, and fear or loathe accordingly. Even snoring, I can see all its teeth.

But again-balance. This was such a blatant display of walking the tightrope for me it’s almost comical. Imagine me, in my head, ‘Omg, they are going to kiss,’ ‘Oh he lOoOoOvEs HERRRR,’ ‘Oh, he will do anything for her’, then, slowly, ‘OMG, the kids. A child’s remnants. Their hair. A doll. Them weeping at their parents’ feet before certain death’ and so on and so forth and what have you, switching back and forth between utter revulsion and perverse delight. It’s a sick game to play, but I couldn’t be happier I tried.

If you don’t risk, you won’t get reward. This romance, this world-it was amazing. I don’t always comment on the world-building, but here we see it done so well, never leaving room for questions and always knowing right where someone or something is meant to be. And, honestly, I really enjoyed each and every character central to the story-good, bad, and ugly. They were made for a specific purpose, to further the plot, and they fit so seamlessly that I can’t imagine the story without them (not the prairie part as much, though-that really realllyy triggered me). Well…I mean…without the king or Nandor there would certainly be less gore, sadness, and violence. And without the evil men or women, there wouldn’t be carnage of families, children, or animals but…I mean, you get it.

All I’m saying is: Gaspar wouldn’t be a tortured soul, Evike wouldn’t be quite so quick to be vicious or petty, and there wouldn’t be room for someone to grow-say, an old enemy? The way the characters flesh out and grow into something more is what I love most about slow-burn and this type of adventure. Back in the day I LOATHED traveling stories (Ask Anna, it’s true). I avoided them AT ALL COSTS. But now, I have noticed that MANY of my favorites are traveling stories, much because they allow for that slow-burn to grow, to fester as the hero and heroine trudge through grueling elements and fight off many foes and sacrifice themselves over and over in their quest to get where they need to be.

I stare at the black outline of his body, light pooling on each crease in his dolman. I should only be thinking about his ax and his horrible missing eye. But instead I am wondering why he cares so much for his oath and so little for his crown. Why he seems to suggest that it’s easier to be a Woodsman than a prince. I curl onto one of the cowhides on the other side of the tent, closer to the fire, and sleep claims me before I can begin to wonder why I am thinking of him so much at all.

Look, I never said I was sane, okay? But who WANTS to be sane when such books as this exist. You have to be a little coocoo to like all the things that happen in fantasy, and I’m right there alongside everyone who does, because I couldn’t imagine my life without it. When I was younger I craved those moments where the hero would have to do something crazy to save the heroine or when horrible things happened and they had to be righted. I never KNEW that I was that way, not until I found Goodreads, and not until I started talking to other people who, like me, liked books that weren’t what people would expect you to like. No one would ever have looked at quiet, mousy me and said, ‘Yeah, she would LOVE this book because the main character is fighting the villain and is on the brink of death and the hero risks it all to save her and he, too, almost perishes. Yeah, she would LOVE that.’ So, I think what I’m saying is this: TWATW was crazy. Very much so. But I loved it, evil and all. Well. Maybe not the evil-but I loved what it made my darling hero do.

“You’ve killed any part of me that was a devout and loyal Woodsman,” he says. There is pain threaded through his voice; I imagine the Prinkepatrios fading from his mind, like a moon paring away in the black sky. His hand shifts from my breast, closing into a fist over my heart. “This is all that’s left now.”

And here we are- the slow-burn romance that owns my soul. There are no books like this. They are IMPOSSIBLE to find. I mean, they are out there…but when I crave them, when I NEED them, they elude me. And this was just the best possible surprise, picking this up and seeing how guarded Gaspar was. The BEST romances stem from those where the main characters are only fooling themselves, because that pivotal, heated, heart-wrenching moment when the two clash into each other due to ‘unrequited’ longing and days or weeks or months of pining secretly and fighting yourself or doubting what they mean to you…THOSE are the moments I LIVE AND BREAHTE AND DIE FOR, because that payoff is unreal. And this book…man. The stubbornness. It rules.

Perhaps I wanted to kiss him to prove how little I cared for my people, for my mother’s braid in my pocket, her life ended by some Woodsman at the behest of his father. Perhaps I wanted to forget that between here and Király Szek I am not pagan, not Yehuli, only some stupid girl with her hand in both pockets, finding comfort in cold, dead things. Maybe I wanted his touch to erase me.
Or perhaps I wanted the opposite: maybe I wanted his kiss to give me shape, to see how my body transfigured under his hands.

And lastly-Evike. Look, I LOVE Gaspar-he is my favorite character and he is wounded and tortured and had his own variation of a terrible life. WE KNOW THIS. He would do ANYTHING for Evike, and his whispered words and vehement actions that speak louder than what he tries to portray…he is a man I will never forget, and he is the sole reason I pushed past the sad or religious or otherwise horrendous moments, because he is a hero that is few and far between and his self-sacrificing soul will forever live in my heart. BUT-I DIGRESS-Evike. I kind of dogged her a little, off and on…and I couldn’t really pinpoint why. Then, it was like a wrecking ball-Evike is me.

I don’t know who I have been with him these past weeks, indulging every perverse instinct, killing fat, slumbering rabbits and openly professing to loathe my own people. My most spiteful self, and perhaps my truest.

The stubbornness. The repetitive downplaying of what I mean to someone. The petty barbs when someone hurts me. The way she views the world, skewed, but with vigor. The not letting a question go. The blatant disregard for her own safety just to help someone she loves, but also to not let go of a man she desires. I…can’t say I loved her-I didn’t. But I valued her. I identified with her. And I FELT her. And isn’t that the kicker, when we see ourselves in a character we don’t like? Guess I need to start looking in the mirror more, huh?

I don’t know when I have become something so burdened by other people’s hopes and loyalties and lives. It almost makes me weep to think of it, how many people will die or be thrown out if I choose wrong. My head bows over my bent knees, pain still crawling up my arm like a glut of blackflies.

So, with all that being said, I truly adored this book. Was it tough for my gooey soft center? Yes. Was it difficult at times to swallow? Yes. But, in the end, there was so much that took my breath away (positively) that I know in my heart this was an epic, unforgettable read. And that goes for 90% of the good, 10% for the bad. Meeting Gaspar and seeing his undying sense of good and his unwavering love and loyalty for Evike, even as he slowly fell for her despite his best efforts, was a balm to my soul, a song to my heart-and I will ALWAYS remember those moments and revisit them when I need to see what true, undying love looks like. It’s hard to remember that exists sometimes in this crazy world, so I can’t help but cherish these wonderfully addictive fantasy love stories.


This book was my greatest fear all wrapped up into one gory, monstrous, wondrous package. I want so terribly to give this a five…and perhaps, as I write my review in a moment, it will sway that way. But, right now the children, the animals, the religion…it keeps me from being able to click that fifth star, no matter how beautifully written.

It had the romance I pine, ache, and search for with each new book I try. It had the battles and the peril and the high stakes I lose sleep over. But, again, my triggers have a horrible habit of ruining my favorite type of stories. So I think that begs the question on my part…why are all my favorite books the ones that have horrible things that happen to innocent beings and people.

Well. I’ll sum it up. The romances are unparalleled. The action and peril are done the best here. So. A stalemate it is…because even though these books rip and tear at my soul, it swings both ways, the pendulum righting and wronging itself with each new page. And if I have to lose what I love to keep all the triggers away, it’s just not worth it.

So. A 4 it is…even though the beautiful enemies to lovers romance is a 100.


View all my reviews

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