book review

Review: The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid | Waterstones

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Genre: Adult Fantasy

Publisher: Del Rey

When the Holy Order of the Woodsmen arrive at a pagan village hidden by the forest, they are there to take a seer for their weak, power-hungry king. But the village has a plan – they will send Évike, the only girl without magic in the village, in the place of the seer. But Évike soon learns that there is more to fear than the king – such as his strong, pious pagan-hating second son, who wants the throne for himself so he can cast out all pagans, and the feelings she develops for a seemingly cold, one-eyed Woodsman on the journey to the castle.

The Wolf and the Woodsman is a beautiful fantasy novel inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish folklore. This novel at times felt like a celebration of Jewish culture and religion. It was brilliant to see such heartfelt representation of a much under-represented group in fiction – and I think this element will feel incredibly important and moving to a lot of people. It was great to see such representation, and to read something a bit different/learn more about other cultures.

The world building in this novel is truly amazing – Reid creates such a magical yet brutal world. It feels equally like a fantastically magical fairytale and like something that mirrors the pages of our history books, as she tackles the dark and complex themes of nation building, ethnic cleansing, cultural genocide and religious persecution. To do all of this (and to do it well and sensitively) within one book in which she also builds a highly detailed world and complex, lovable characters is quite the feat and I’m in awe of how much she got done in one book.

Reid brings this novel and the characters to life with beautiful, lyrical, haunting prose. I loved Évike, who was spiky, determined and holding on to a lot of hurt. Gáspár, the love interest, is complex and nuanced and I loved the way he developed over the course of the novel. The world is so well crafted and the novel was gripping – I felt completely immersed in it when I was reading, and I didn’t want to stop.

There’s so much to love about this novel and I highly, highly recommend that you pick it up! Through gorgeous prose, Reid created an unforgettable world and cast of characters, and I’m excited to see what she will do next!

book review

Review: The Rules of Revelation by Lisa McInerney

AD – Gifted. Thank you to Tandem Collective and John Murray for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

57306617. sy475

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Publisher: John Murray

Pub date: 13 May 2021

Genre: General fiction/Irish literature

Content warnings: Child abuse, rape

The Rules of Revelation follows four women from Cork (Karine, Mel, Georgie and Maureen) and the person that connects them all: Ryan Cusack, an ex-drug dealer turned musician.

I was kindly gifted this book by the Tandem Collective and the publishers. Though it’s the third in the series, both advise that you can read it as a standalone if you wish. I’ve not read the first two books in the series (the first of which is Women’s Prize and Desmond Elliot Prize winning The Glorious Heresies) – and though I did follow what was happening, and do agree that it works as a standalone, I do feel like it’s probably best if you read it as the third book. You can tell that the characters have rich backstories, and it feels a shame to miss out on all of that character development.

Having said that, I loved a lot of things about this book. I think Lisa McInerney writes beautifully, truly immersing you in the world. Cork is basically a character in the novel – you can’t divorce the story from the setting and she develops it so well. I don’t think that her writing style will be to everyone’s tastes – it’s a bit fragmented, jumping between multiple narrators without any signposting, which takes a little while to get used to. This didn’t bother me so much, but I think it could irritate others.

I find it really interesting that Ryan is the main character of this novel but the only narration we receive from him is in the form of explanations of the origin of each of the tracks on his album, written to Karine and sporadically inserted into the book. The rest of the narration is from the four women. This is an interesting way of telling someone’s story, but the more I thought about it, the more I was less sure about it. I think maybe something didn’t sit right with me about these four women essentially all telling Ryan’s stories and not their own. They did all have their own arcs, but they definitely weren’t the centrepiece of the novel.

The downside to reading this as a standalone was that I couldn’t tell when something was underdeveloped or whether it was in a previous book in the series. I really liked Mel at the beginning, for example, but I found her plot petered out quite quickly and for the most part she was just a bystander. She had the potential for a really interesting, deep character, but she was underdeveloped. The threads of her storyline that were picked up at the end had pretty much been forgotten about by the preceding 80% of the book.

Karine also got little to do, other than participate in the romance, which I actually found to be the weakest part of the novel. I was rooting for the characters (and again, might have loved them more if I’d read the previous two books) but didn’t necessarily feel invested in it as I was reading. I would’ve liked more time devoted to other characters instead.

I enjoyed a lot of things about this book – McInerney’s writing style really gripped me and I found it difficult to put down. She is clearly an accomplished writer, and reading this does make me want to go back and read the first two novels in the series. I do wonder if I would have rated it higher if I had not read it as a standalone, though.

book review

Review: Cunning Women by Elizabeth Lee

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Publishers: Windmill Books

Genre: Historical fiction

Pub date: 22 Apr 2021

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

I was very excited about Cunning Women and loved the premise. It’s set in 1620s Lancashire, after James I had published Demonology and when God-fearing communities suspected anyone different of being witches. Sarah and her family are healers, who live away from the village and suffer their judgement while selling them healing salves and poultices on the side. When Sarah meets Daniel, son of the wealthiest man in the village, she starts to imagine another life for her and her family.

I love stories about witches – I recently read AK Blakemore’s The Manningtree Witches, set in a similar time, and adored it – but for me, this book really fell flat. It was essentially just a love story that happened to be set in 1620s Lancashire. And though that’s not really what it sells it as, I would’ve been able to get on board because I do love romance novels. But the romance in this book is instantaneous and inexplicable – Sarah and Daniel see each other for a moment and then are obsessed with each other for the rest of the novel, for no apparent reason. It felt unrealistic and therefore I couldn’t get on board with it and so didn’t care about it – and as that was the driving force of the novel, I really started to struggle.

I also found the plot weak – there’s a ridiculous part where the main character puts on the outfit of a milkmaid (so a clean dress and a bonnet) and no one recognises that it’s her! Even people who have seen her up close. Other than this, there isn’t too much plot to speak of, and I found picking the book up quite a struggle. Reading it definitely began to feel like a chore.

This book certainly wasn’t for me, and I wouldn’t recommend it to others either. If you’re looking for something witchy, I definitely recommend The Manningtree Witches. This novel is compared to The Essex Serpent on the blurb, which isn’t a fair comparison (they aren’t alike at all), but The Essex Serpent is also another book you should read instead of this one!