The Wolf and the Woodsman

  • Review
By – May 28, 2021

From the first page of Ava Reid’s impres­sive debut nov­el, we are thrown into a world of human sac­ri­fice and tyran­ni­cal rulers, and tak­en on a jour­ney that explores what we are will­ing to for­feit in order to pro­long our existence.

Évike is a social out­cast in her small vil­lage; both her unsuit­able parent­age and inabil­i­ty to devel­op the mag­i­cal pow­ers that all oth­er vil­lage women have make her the ide­al human sac­ri­fice to the region’s king. When the much-feared Woods­men come to col­lect their boun­ty, Évike is thrust for­ward, under the guise of being a seer. When their trav­el­ing par­ty is attacked on the jour­ney back, only Évike and the lead Woods­man sur­vive the encounter — and their true iden­ti­ties are revealed. Évike is no seer and the Woods­man is actu­al­ly the crown prince, Gáspár. They form a union of neces­si­ty when they dis­cov­er a shared desire to over­throw the oppres­sive pow­ers threat­en­ing their land. The Woods­man is con­cerned for the fate of his sub­jects should his cru­el half-broth­er take the throne, while Évike real­izes that despite the ill treat­ment she received from her fel­low vil­lagers, they are worth pro­tect­ing. The two char­ac­ters start a quest that will force them to learn to trust each oth­er as they trav­el through the forests that make up their home kingdom.

We are wit­ness to Évike’s strug­gle for per­son­al accep­tance, despite the col­lec­tive opin­ion that she holds lit­tle worth. The blos­som­ing rela­tion­ship between her and Gáspár cements her long­ing for mag­i­cal abil­i­ties, and she mim­ics an age-old Woods­men prac­tice of phys­i­cal muti­la­tion in an attempt to man­i­fest her own pow­ers — which works. We feel the pain she suf­fers in order to be accept­ed in this world, and the book fur­ther asks us to con­sid­er the ulti­mate price of these sac­ri­fices. What are we pre­pared to give in order to sus­tain our exis­tence, and what and what are the con­se­quences in the long run?

Rich with vivid descrip­tion, fan­tas­ti­cal mon­sters, and mag­ic unmatched by most oth­er books for its pure phys­i­cal­i­ty, this sto­ry may be strong­ly influ­enced by Jew­ish folk­lore — but the voice is orig­i­nal, per­haps as it’s refresh­ing­ly female. What will con­tin­ue to strike a chord with read­ers long after they have put the book down is the deter­mi­na­tion of the pro­tag­o­nist to flour­ish regard­less of per­son­al cost.

Discussion Questions