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.
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.
Reid's fast-paced debut examines religious freedom through the lens of myth and magic. Every few years, the Holy Order of Woodsmen travel to the pagan village of Keszi to take one of their magic-wielding wolf-girls on the orders of the king. This year, when the woodsmen demand a seer, Keszi's matriarch instead hands over Évike, the only wolf-girl without magic. Reid's atmospheric prose evokes fairy tale enchantment as Évike and the woodsmen traverse a forest filled with monsters. When one attacks, forcing Évike and the sullen Woodsman captain, Gáspár, to fight together to survive, Évike's lack of magic and Gáspár's true identity as the shunned heir of the kingdom are revealed. To save her village from being massacred for their deception, Évike agrees to help Gáspár prevent his zealot brother, Nándor, from usurping the throne. Fantasy romance fans will enjoy watching tortured Gáspár and fiery Évike warm to each other over legends, monster battles, and their shared outcast status as their quest takes them into the frozen north. But their arrival at the capital places Évike in danger as she faces off against the power-hungry king and Nándor's fanatical followers. The convincing enemies-to-lovers romance, fascinating religion-based magic system, and thoughtful examination of zealotry make this a notable debut.
beautiful prose and enemies to lovers excellence!
I was just starting to hope this actually was as smart and entertaining as Novik or Arden, then it slithered into silliness and bad romance and became a DNF around the halfway point.