‘For the Wolf’ is a dark yet engrossing story, packed with the atmospheric magic of the fairytales it draws its inspiration from. There are family curses, sacrifice, blood magic, an enchanted forest, and layers upon layers of secrets and betrayal, all coming together to produce a story much deeper and more nuanced than it first appears.
“The first daughter is for the throne. The second daughter is for the Wolf.”
All her life, Red – as the second daughter of the Queen – has known that her purpose is to be sacrificed to the Wolf of the Wilderwood, in the hope of bringing back the Five Kings it stole centuries ago. Her sister and friends are desperate to save her – but secretly, Red is glad to go: for Red has a dangerous magic inside her, one that she struggles to control. Red is prepared to die to save those she loves. But all her beliefs about the Wilderwood are wrong. The Wolf of the Wilderwood is a man, not a monster – and the wood might not be her true enemy after all. With her magic, Red might be the last hope the Wilderwood has to prevent monsters destroying all she holds dear.
Red makes an excellent protagonist. Sharp and feisty, she knows what she wants and will stop at nothing to achieve it. She’s caring and loyal, but guards her heart behind a crown of thorns, sharpened by old hurts. Red is very much the sort to jump in without thinking of consequences, but her intentions are good and she’s smarter than those around her think. She also adores books – they’re the only possessions she takes with her to the Wilderwood, and her reaction to libraries is amazing. Its nice to see a bookish heroine portrayed as bold and forthright.
While most of the story is from Red’s perspective, there are a few Interludes following her sister Neve. I found these weaker than Red’s sections – Neve is a little two-dimensional, her entire personality shaped around the loss of her sister – but she has clear potential, and hopefully will develop more in the planned sequel. The sisterly bond between Red and Neve is also heartwarming, especially as the two appear so different. There are glimmers of Neve being a more trusting and naive figure than her sister, but she also has a quiet strength and determination that Red would be proud of.
The setting and atmosphere are the strongest part of the novel. The Wilderwood is a dark, gloomy, and terrifying place, yet it has an eerie sense of beauty which Whitten paints perfectly. There are gothic undertones, but combined with a sense of peace and tranquility. Red has always been taught to fear the Wilderwood – and there are plenty of reasons why she should – but she also feels at home there in a way she never has before. The dichotomy is difficult to balance, but Whitten does so brilliantly, creating a sense of quiet tension combined with an element of strange rightness.
This being a story inspired by fairytales, the plot is full of tropes and recognisable elements – but Whitten puts her own spin on them, adding enough uniqueness to keep them engrossing. The pace alters throughout – rather than a relentless march or slow meander, it changes like the wind, sometimes merely rustling the leaves and sometimes tearing down entire branches. This works well – and in fact, the slower middle is my favourite part, really highlighting the atmosphere and winding up a beautiful sense of tension sure to crack. The ending is clever, changing direction several times so its impossible to predict where things will end up, and achieves both a sense of resolution and a clear direction for the sequel.
Naturally for a fairytale, there’s a romantic element. This is well-written, developing slowly and organically with clear hints dropped throughout, but its less gripping than the rest of the novel. The most important relationship is the family one between Red and Neve – the romance is a nice and expected addition, but somewhat overshadowed.
Overall, ‘For the Wolf’ is a darkly gripping tale perfect for fans of atmospheric fantasy and clever fairytale retellings. It’s strongly reminiscent of books like Naomi Novik’s ‘Uprooted‘, although stands strongly as its own tale. A recommended read.
Published by Orbit
Paperback: 3rd June 2021