Book Review: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

Goodreads: The Wolf and the Woodsman
Published: 08 June 2021
Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Panda Rating:

(3.5 pandas)

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. 

TL;DR: I started off really enjoying this fantastical world that’s richly infused with magic and folklore, not to mention being very excited about the enemies-to-lovers romance that I’ve been hearing all about. Sadly, I found myself losing steam thanks to the erratic pacing, plus I also found it difficult to connect to and care about our main characters—which meant that although there were some swoony moments between Gáspár and Évike, I didn’t end up being blown away by their chemistry or romance. No one’s more disappointed than I am that I didn’t enjoy this one more because I was absolutely ready to love this and thought I’d be kicking off my 2022 with a banging 5-star read. 😮‍💨 Still, I’m glad that I gave it a try; I didn’t dislike it but if I’m honest, I feel kind of meh about it.

I actually dove into this with limited knowledge. I hadn’t read any reviews but had seen a few praises on book Twitter but I had no idea what to really expect. A heads up for readers, in case you’re clueless like me: This is not YA, it’s New Adult/Adult. I also didn’t realise that it would be such a dark and gruesome read, so if you are particularly squeamish when it comes to blood/gore, I’d check for the CW/TW below because there’s a fair amount of it throughout the story!

CW/TW as listed by the author: Gore, including graphic descriptions of dismemberment, amputation, mutilation, and immolation, Torture, including whipping, Self-harm, including self-amputation, Animal death (graphic; the animals are not pets), Antisemitism, Cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing, Physical abuse by parents and parental figures, Graphic descriptions of vomiting

Now onto my thoughts:

I really enjoyed how atmospheric Reid’s writing was! She created such a bleak atmosphere that fits perfectly with the dark fairytale-esque mood of the story. The atmosphere added to the intrigue and it was one of the things that quickly pulled me into the story from the beginning. I was immediately curious about Évike and her tumultuous relationship with the other wolf-girls and her village, and once she gets taken by the Woodsmen, I needed to know what happened next. There are a lot of themes in this book and they’re all pretty heavy but I think they’re handled well by the author. It was surprisingly more political and religious than I expected but it wasn’t at all in a bad way. I’m not overly familiar with Eastern European history but Reid does a fantastic job drawing parallels to real historical suffering as a result of religious oppression and persecution, ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide.

Something else that I loved was the Jewish mythology woven into the story, making this perfect for readers who love folktales. That said, I feel like the constant insertion of stories into the main plot considerably slowed down the pace and resulted in some very erratic storytelling. We’d get fast-paced and exciting action scenes with horrifying monsters and magic, which would then suddenly slow down in the following scene, as Évike (usually) would reflect on a story that she would ponder the meaning of (and girl, same). There were also times when the writing became overwhelmingly descriptive and repetitive—while I do enjoy descriptive writing, I have to admit it lost me a bit at times here.

With the characters, I thought Évike and Gáspár were interesting and they had potential, but perhaps the biggest reason why I didn’t enjoy this as much as I’d hoped to was that I never really cared bout them. Having endured a lifetime of bullying and abuse from the people in her village, Évike’s bitterness, hatred and rage were what drove her to survive another day, and I understood those emotions from her. That said, she was so bratty and so mean and gave so little thought to how her actions would affect those close to her until it was too late and she wasn’t able to reverse the bad decisions she made. I’ve come to develop an appreciation for unlikeable characters in recent years but I’m sorry to say it really didn’t extend to Évike. 😂 I admit, she did have small moments of growth when she got to the capital, found her father and learned more about her Yehuli heritage, but it wasn’t enough to change how I felt about her.

On the other hand, despite having a lot in common with Évike in terms of how they were treated growing up and how society sees them, Gáspár was her opposite in almost every way. He was weak the majority of the time and though I actually liked him at the start and I saw the potential in his character, he never got a personality beyond being meek and pious. Not gonna lie, I was pretty disappointed with how stagnant his character was, but I think the same can also be said with many of the other characters that we’re introduced to in the story. There’s potential for more depth but they ended up being fairly one dimensional!

And then there’s the romance that many readers have raved about. Again, there was potential—the way they loathed each other convinced me that this would be a great enemies-to-lovers romance but just as with the pacing of the story, the pacing of the romance was also very erratic. Évike in particular was so unnecessarily cruel to Gáspár throughout the story that I didn’t believe in her constant (and I mean, constant) lust for him. Sadly, we don’t get his POV so we don’t know how he feels about her until she demands him to kneel before her to prove his feelings, but otherwise, he’s just as hot and mostly cold.

Okay, I know this review makes it seem that there’s more I disliked than I liked, but I don’t think this was a bad read! I just think that more could’ve been done with it before it could even be comped to my faves, Spinning Silver and TBATN! That said, I know many who loved it and I’m coming in hot with an unpopular opinion, but I’m still glad I gave this a try and I would still be interested in reading more by this author in the future!

Have you read The Wolf and the Woodsman or is it on your TBR?

12 thoughts on “Book Review: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

  1. Great review! Yeah the pacing for the romance was just so weird. One minute they are kissing and the next they are not even really interacting, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review, Dini! I have to agree with you here. I hoped this book would be a 5 star read because I LOVE fantasy novels that explore religions and I did enjoy a lot about it, but I think I’d agree that neither Évike nor Gáspár were ever quite the characters I wanted them to be. I didn’t mind Évike’s attitude so much because I love women who are allowed to be angry, although I did still feel held at a distance from her, but Gáspár was a lot softer than I expected in a story that’s so harsh the rest of the time? Plus I’m a bit fed up of men in fantasy who have mean fathers and loving, but dead, mothers. Despite all that I did really enjoy this overall, but I also know exactly where you’re coming from! 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought there was missed potential with these characters. I just wanted that little bit more from them and the story—it always just felt like there was more to be had and then it never went there. I also liked that Évike was angry but didn’t make sense to me for her to basically give up the happiness that she found with her father and the Yehuli community, to go rescue the people who basically made her life hell? I don’t know, it just didn’t click for me. I also wanted MUCH more from Gáspár and I thought it would go there at the beginning but was soo disappointed that it didn’t. I still enjoyed this enough to try another book by this author in the future though! 😂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I definitely didn’t realise this was so gory either! 🙈 Thankfully I’m pretty okay with that stuff but I can imagine it being quite a shocker for those who are squeamish or simply just don’t like it. I think you’d definitely have to be in the right mood to read this!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m pretty bummed I didn’t like it, too! But I seem to be in the minority with my feelings? I think if you’re in the right mood for a darker fairytale and are okay with gore, then this could work for you, I guess? Lol I hope you enjoy it if you do pick it up, Andie! 😊

      Like

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