Author: Ava Reid
Publication Date: June 8, 2021
Print Length: 448 pages
Read Date(s): July 24, 2021 – July 28, 2021
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.
In the vein of Naomi Novik’s New York Times bestseller Spinning Silver and Katherine Arden’s national bestseller The Bear and the Nightingale, this unforgettable debut— inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology—follows a young pagan woman with hidden powers and a one-eyed captain of the Woodsmen as they form an unlikely alliance to thwart a tyrant.
My Mini Review
The stunning cover of this book drew me in the second I saw it, and I’m glad it did. There was so much to digest in it that I honestly think a re-read is necessary to truly grasp the many layers of the story. It brilliantly explored the politics of nation-building, and the world-building and mythology aspects of the story were captivating. The magic and faith systems were interesting, yet grotesque, and were a good metaphor for the sacrifices often necessary to achieve greatness or power while also reflecting the very real self-castigating nature of many religious beliefs/practices. The romance was believable and slow-burn, and it allowed the exploration of themes related to overcoming preconceived notions about one’s enemies. The book also pointed out the importance of stories and language in both passing on one’s heritage and creating a singular national identity. Incredibly heavy topics were tackled, including coming to terms with a history of abuse and oppression and exploration of the types of driving forces of abuse/oppression. The two main characters, Évike and Gáspár, illustrated two very opposing representations of how people cope with long-term abuse, and their journey of understanding their mixed feelings about their homes/oppressors was complex and compelling to read. My only complaints would be the pacing and somewhat repetitive writing, especially in the first half of the book. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and the topics it explored despite the flaws in the writing and pacing. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.