***Content warnings for blood letting, self harm/cutting, child and parental neglect, gore, death of a parent and more listed on the authors site here***
It’s been a while since I dropped everything to read a book that just arrived in the post that same day. But there is a lot to be said when that book has a dark, magical woods that is corrupted, is a mix of fairy tales that haven’t been retold like this before and there’s a potential monster boyfriend situation. I’m in.
The first daughter is for the Throne.
The second daughter is for the Wolf.
As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.
Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.
But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood-and her world-whole.
I fell for this book in seconds of opening the book. I have mentioned in passing that I love a great opening line in a novel and it really has the potential to hook you from there. The first line of the book, set the mood of the entire story but also just spoke to my very soul;
‘Two nights before she was sent to the Wolf, Red wore a dress the colour of blood.’
This is a fantastically written book and an even more powerful debut. It’s clear where Hannah Whitten has taken her inspiration from and what elements she’s using to craft this story but they fold together so well and the story drags you further and further in like the Wilderwood.
The story begins with the Second Daughter herself. Red, short for Redarys, preparing herself for her inevitable sacrifice to the Wilderwood on the edge of the Queendom of Valleyda. Red has been prepped for this her whole life, not gaining much of a life due to it. Her twin. Neve or Neverah being the First Daughter and destined for the Throne. Opposing sister dynamics are some of my favourite things to see in SFF so this was something I loved from the very beginning.
Hannah Whitten has crafted a fairly brutal world here and it’s pretty much displayed to us from the very beginning. Many years prior, a couple names Gaya and Ciaran, made a bargain with the Wilderwood in order to keep the monsters from the world in the forest and to bring the Five Kings back to maintain peace. These two were the first Wolf and Second Daughter, the tradition carrying on from a story of Ciaran bringing Gaya’s desecrated corpse to the edge of the forest telling the people to send the next Second Daughter. Something I really loved was how Valleyda use this tradition to wield power over neighbouring countries.
There is a religion that surrounds the tradition of sending the Second Daughter to the Wilderwood called The Order. It is matriarchal in it’s structure and is powerful due to it’s association with the Wood which Valleyda it is noted by the characters that while it is the only power they have it’s also a handy weapon. The border to the Wilderwood lies there. If the other countries want to remain safe and free of monsters, they had best respect this religion. I was really impressed with the subtlety here in the writing. There is a temptation to make religion a main feature of a fantasy novel but the small, sly ways The Order weaves it’s influences among different countries like vines of the wood itself is honestly excellent.
Another superb part of the book is of course the characters and in particular the development of their relationships. Again, I love sibling dynamics in books particularly between sisters so the attention to them over the secondary relationships was a big bonus. We are told that the sisters have made an attempt to destroy the traditions and the Wilderwood before and they have kept the idea of breaking the trend alive for many years. Neve herself trying to free Red by organising a means to runaway in the very first pages. When Red enters the wood, the only person she tells she loves is her sister and her main determination is to eventually get back to her. Neve in turn, looking to use her time in the Throne to get Red out. The strength of their relationship is something I think pinning the story on was a fantastic choice.
And the relationship between the Wolf and Second Daughter? Excellent. Absolutely brilliant. We learn that the Wolf is called Eamonn and lives out his days in a crumbling ruin in the middle of the Wilderwood with two others. He and the wood are one. I know we’re all used to hearing that the bad guy ‘isn’t all bad’ but Eamonn is clearly not the bad guy here. Wolf he may be but he is quickly established as a kind, tenacious man with a good heart and a determination borne from years of fighiting back against the breaches within the Wilderwood. He and Red are well matched in wit, and in their shared need to have someone to relate to. Red comes from a neglectful parentage while Eamonn was born from a pair of fairytale characters and his duties built into his actual body. Their relationship is built on healing and sharing and I really want to see more of it.
The magic system and the fairy tales this reuses really deserve their own mention. Red has her own untamed nature magic, a different situation for a Second Daughter. It’s shown to be this wild, feral type of magic that encourages plants to go wild, overwhelms her with dirt coming out of her mouth and is clearly linked to the Wilderwood. This contrasts really interestingly with Eamonn and his abilities as the Wolf where bleeding and bloodletting are needed from him to maintain control of the wood. It’s an interesting dichotomy and definitely a different one that stands out. The fairy tales, was a nice mashup. There are clear parallels of Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast and Sleeping Beauty across this book but I do like the elements of Snow White and Rose Red in there as well woven into it. Just wanted to mention it, for my Fables and Robin McKinley fans.
I want to thank Orbit for sending me a copy, both via a NetGalley and a finished copy, for review. For the Wolf is out on the 3rd of June and is a must read for fans of Uprooted, Pans Labyrinth and Fables. Thanks for checking in folks and happy reading!