Thank you Harper Voyager and Netgalley for the opportunity to be DESTROYED by Ava Reid's incredible debut The Wolf & the Woodsman. This book is so gorgeously written and gripping. As a reader, you can't help but be immersed in this brutal world and its horrors--human and otherwise.
JUST LOOK AT THIS BEAUTIFUL COVER. And it still doesn't do justice to what's inside.
"Do they not teach wolf girls that sometimes it's better to sheathe their claws?"
"That's all I've been taught, Woodsman. My entire life."
Born without magic and to a less than desirable (their words not mine) bloodline, Évike is an outcast in her village. So, when the dreaded Wolfsmen come to collect their sacrifice, her people have no qualms offering Évike up in place of a more powerful wolf girl.
But on the road, monsters (and other gruesome events) take the lives of everyone but Évike and the sexy...ahem...cold, one-eyed "Captain"(see disgraced prince Gáspár). For a moment, Évike's and Gáspár's desires (and fears, I suppose) intersect and they set off on a mission through the opposite of a relaxing beach vacation: the frozen, bitter tundra. They have no choice but to cuddle for warmth.
There's a lot more to this plot, but let's be honest--you can find a better summary than I can produce. I just wanted to get to the juicy bit(s).
Content Warnings (as provided by the author):
Gore, including graphic descriptions of dismemberment, amputation, mutilation, and immolation
Torture, including whipping
Animal death (graphic; the animals are not pets)
Self-harm, including self-amputation
Cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing
Physical abuse by parents and parental figures
Graphic descriptions of vomiting
For the TL;DR just tell me if I should buy it crowd: Yes. It's that simple. Yes. But more specifically, if you like sharp, expertly executed fantasy with keen (and devastating) observations about the real world and prose that rattles your bones.
If you still need convincing...
I saw Alix Harrow call this book "unsettling but compelling" and that's truly the best way to describe it. The story drives, drives, drives forward from start to finish, never flinching away from gore or darkness. It flays open humanity's ugliest and most aching parts. Desperation, desire, loneliness, trauma, and betrayal are all right there on the page. I felt it in my throat from start to finish.
But while there is a lot of physical and emotional pain displayed between these covers, there's SO MUCH heart too. There's almost a feeling of having a festering wound opened and finally properly cleaned--still a lot of healing to be done, but you're not gonna fall off the back of a horse and die of infection. (Spoiler?)(My reviews are chaos, what of it?) The enemies to lovers, atmosphere FOR DAYS, and the sense you've stepped into a grim (not Grimm) fairytale are not to be missed.
Comparisons to Naomi Novik and Katherine Arden are spot on--lush prose and expert story craft. Ava Reid is a powerhouse and I anticipate (and hope!) we'll be seeing a lot more from them in the future.