Robyn Reviews: The Wolf and the Woodsman

‘The Wolf and the Woodsman’ is a dark, gritty tale inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish folklore. It has its weaknesses, but its beautifully written and tells an intriguing tale with gorgeous atmosphere.

In Évike’s pagan village, all women are blessed with magic by the gods – all, that is, except her. To be without magic is to be foresaken by the gods, leaving her an outcast. When the feared Woodsmen come to the village to enact their yearly toll – a powerful Wolf Girl as payment to the King – the villagers send Évike instead. However, en route to the city, the Woodsmen are attacked, leaving only two survivors – Évike, and the mysterious one-eyed captain. Alone in the dangerous forest, they must learn to trust each other if they’re to survive. But the captain is not who he seems, and there are far more dangerous threats than the monsters in the woods. Always the outsider, Évike must decide where she really fits in, and what she’s willing to give up to protect it.

Évike is a damaged woman, all snarls and sharp teeth. All her life she’s been looked down upon and belittled – bullied for her lack of magic, and for her Yehuli father sullying her pagan blood. Évike trusts no-one, and she craves power like a drug. Her words are sharp and she’s a talented huntress, but she’s never been strong enough to truly damage anyone else. In a cruel world, she dreams of finally having the strength to hit back. In many ways, Évike is an unlikeable character – but its difficult not to be sympathetic to her plight. Her character has been shaped by circumstance, and whilst she might not be pleasant she knows what it means to survive.

Gáspár, the Woodsman, is a complete contrast. He puts on a tough front, but inside he’s soft and kind-hearted – far too gentle for a world as cruel as his. He’s also smart and patient, knowing how to play the long game. His weakness is his heart -and a certain amount of naivety born from wanting to believe in the best of others. Its impossible not to like Gáspár, but his gentle nature lends itself to mistakes and betrayal.

Unfortunately, the romance between them doesn’t quite work. Enemies-to-lovers is incredibly popular at the moment, and often works well – but the chemistry between Évike and Gáspár isn’t fully convincing. Évike’s sharp edges are hard to reconcile with Gáspár’s softness, and the chasm between them is just too wide. There isn’t enough on-page character development to show any common ground.

Character development in general is the book’s biggest weakness. Évike feels almost exactly the same at the end of the book as she does at the start of her journey. She makes some seismic discoveries, but none of them have any convincing impact on her. Gáspár starts off as a mystery and then has a solid story arc, but Évike remains stubbornly the same. The story is still enjoyable, but it would be vastly improved if Évike ‘s character was explored a bit deeper and allowed to grow more obviously – especially in the second half.

On a more positive note, the writing is exquisite. Ava Reid has a knack for scene setting and descriptive writing, painting a gorgeous yet eerie picture of both the forest Évike is from and the city her and Gáspár end up in. The atmosphere is always dark and gritty, but there are elements of real horror interspersed with lighter elements – the sun peeking from behind the clouds. There are points where you want to stop and just admire the phrasing of a particular sentence.

The plot is engaging and twisty, with several distinct parts. In some ways, this would work better as two or even three books. The second half is faster paced than the first, but both are engaging. It takes some time to settle in and get past Évike’s prickly exterior, but beyond that, the first half becomes reminiscent of ‘Uprooted‘ or ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’, with the second half adding the politics of ‘We Ride the Storm‘ or ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. There are a couple of moments where things become repetitive, but overall everything meshes together well.

Reid packs a lot into just under 450 pages, yet manages to get away without information overload. It does mean that some things aren’t explored as deeply as they could have been – the Yehuli, Évike’s father’s people clearly based on the Jews, get less page time than might have been nice, and similarly it would have been good to see more of the Northerners – but there’s still plenty to enjoy. The atmosphere and excellent writing goes a long way to papering over the cracks of the minor flaws. This is a debut novel, and the skill Reid has with words leaves little doubt that she has bigger things to come.

Overall, ‘The Wolf and the Woodsman’ is a mixed book, but one worth reading for the atmosphere, more unusual folklore basis, and the exceptional writing. The characters and relationships aren’t the strongest, but there’s still plenty to like. Recommended for fans of folklore-inspired tales, lyrical writing, and complex explorations of culture and identity.

Thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Del Rey
Hardback: 8th June 2021

to be read

Last week I was over at Shelf Absorption answering their questions about my books and how I organise my shelves.

shelf absorption

Jackie Law
Wiltshire, England

Tell us about your bookcases
A number of years ago we had an extension built at the back of our house and I took over what had been the dining room as ‘a room of my own’. It’s actually a bit of a cave off the family room – there are no windows – but it has my desk, piano, comfy chair and, initially, a random assortment of bookcases that were always surrounded by stacks of books on the floor. Eventually it was decided that I could have custom built floor to ceiling shelves to house my ever growing collection (I am fortunate to receive a lot of book post) the idea being that this would remove the need to store books on the floor. Ha! The one thing I’d like to add is a ladder as I’m not tall enough to reach the top shelves…

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Book Review: Rebound

lesiewicz_rebound_uk

Rebound, by Aga Lesiewicz, is a tense and tightly written psychological thriller set in and around Highgate in London. Its protagonist, Anna, is a thirty-something, single female who enjoys a successful career in the media. With no partner and no children she offers the reader a refreshing glimpse of a woman living a life of her choosing, whose only real tie is her much loved dog. This is not a book that relies on gender stereotypes or cliché. Its characters are varied and rounded, as in life.

When the story opens, Anna is on the verge of breaking up with her boyfriend of three years. James is handsome, loving and successful but Anna has had enough. His previously endearing habits now irritate. When she meets with her best friend, Bell, to drink and discuss what she has done, Bell advises her to stay single for a time, not to rebound into the arms of the first available replacement as she has been wont to do in the past.

Anna unwinds by running, usually on Hampstead Heath which is close to her home. When she observes two men enjoying an assignation in the bushes she starts to fantasise about such an encounter.

She follows an habitual route on her runs and starts to notice a handsome stranger running the same paths. She shocks herself by playing out her fantasy. When the local news outlets report details of rapes on the heath she worries that she has somehow triggered these awful events. Her rational side recognises how unlikely this would be but nagging doubts remain.

Anna has good friends in whom she confides. She also starts to meet neighbours when one returns her dog, found wandering in the road despite being left secured in her garden. There are other unexplained occurrences: her car is vandalised; roses are left outside her front door. With the added pressures of overseeing major restructuring at work she has little time to consider her continuing interest in the handsome stranger.

Anna is required to travel to Paris on business. While she is away tragedy strikes and she returns home to find herself implicated in a murder investigation. Her personal space has been invaded; nowhere feels safe.

The darkness of the woods, emptiness of the heath, and the pounding of Anna’s feet as she runs, provide a dark and tense backdrop to this fast paced tale. As the reader tries to guess which of the characters may be capable of the heinous crimes being committed, a brooding fear seeps in.

The denouement does not disappoint. The darkness is exposed with minimal contrivance.

A deftly put together thriller that benefits from the inclusion of Anna. It is rare to be offered a fictional woman who makes her own choices – professional, sexual and personal – without regrets. Woven around Anna is a compelling plot that avoids condemning her chosen lifestyle. She is allowed to be female and independent whilst enjoying liaisons and relationships on her own terms.

This was a highly enjoyable read; a fine thriller, well written, that I devoured in a sitting. Recommended.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Macmillan. 

 

 

Other People’s Bookshelves #63 – Jackie Law

I am well chuffed to have been included in the Bookshelves series over at Savidge Reads. If you are not following Simon’s blog already I recommend you check it out.

Savidge Reads

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are down in Wiltshire, a county I lived in for about 7 or 8 years of my childhood, to join the lovely Jackie Law who keeps the blog Never Imitate, which I highly recommend you give a read. Before we have a nose around her shelves lets all get some lovely afternoon tea that Jackie has laid on for us and find out more about her…

I always struggle to know how to answer when someone asks me about myself. I am a wife of twenty-three years, a mother to three teenagers, a back garden hen keeper and a writer. These are the roles I consider important, but I earn…

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Stories for Tories

I rarely reblog anything here, but I am spitting nails over the Education Secretary’s tampering (again) with the school curriculum. This time he is sticking his oar in over which books teenagers should study for GCSE English Literature. Forget quality or diversity, just go for old and British. He has publicly stated that he thinks kids should be reading 50 books a year from age eleven, but not any of that populist rubbish. This poem says it a lot better than me…

Taking Words for a Stroll

(A response to the decision by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to focus the new English GCSE syllabus on dead, white, male British authors)

Some books are better than others.

We have to all get this quite right:

You have to read books that were written by men,

Ones who are dead and were white.

You say you want books made by women?

No need to fuss, dear, there, there.

I’ll throw in a few to placate you.

You can, I suppose, have Jane Eyre.

Books by American authors?

Of course they’re not actually banned,

But none of this killing a mockingbird stuff,

Or your dear little brains might expand.

Stuff from elsewhere? Why should you care!

Works by Adichie, Soyinka?

You’re sitting exams here, not widening your minds!

Do you want to turn into a thinker?

There are so many books that are bad for your brains

And…

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The Beginning

Have just discovered this blog and I love the author’s idea. I have already read twenty-seven of the books and would recommend most of them – so I guess the others may be worth reading? Looks like my list of ‘books I want to read’ has just got much longer.

101 Books

Here’s the deal: I’m going to read all 100 of Time Magazine’s Top 100 novels since 1923. (Why 1923? That’s the year Time Magazine was first published.) Join me if you would like. Come back every now and then and see which novel I’m reading and what I thought of it. Or don’t. You won’t hurt my feelings.

This crazy idea started when I was researching some good fiction books for a late summer trip to the beach. As a former English major, I’m quite fond of a good book.

But since graduating years ago, I’ve strayed away from the classics—really, almost all fiction—while spending my time reading about golf, running, cooking, you name it. Those are all well and good subjects—I love ‘em—but I need a little fiction in my life. Who doesn’t?

While browsing online, I stumbled across Time Magazine’s list of the Top 100 novels. As I scanned…

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I enjoy reading many of the posts from The Belle Jar but this is just so beautiful that I had to reblog.

The Belle Jar

You.

Sometimes I wonder about you.

I wonder, for instance, where you came from. I understand the dry facts, of course, the complex mechanics of ovulation and ejaculation. I understand how cells divide, and then divide again, their numbers growing exponentially as seconds tick by. I know a thing or two about gametes and zygotes and embryos.

What I don’t understand is how all of that made you.

The facts of your existence seem like they would be better explained by alchemy rather than biology. We made you out of nothing, or rather, we made you out of two randomly-selected bits of genetic code that we unintentionally sent slamming into each other deep in the darkest recesses of my body. And out of those tangled strands of DNA grew you, incredible, beautiful you, with your father’s blue eyes and my heart-shaped mouth.

It feels more like magic than…

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