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.
I saw a flash of a picture of this book for a giveaway and was practically sold. Then I saw a flash on the description, a girl who has no magic because she has been abandoned by the gods, based on Hungarian history and Jewish myth, and the only survivors of a monster attack being Évike, the main character, and the cold, one eyed captain of the Woodsman. Then I basically fell head over heels for this book and definitely, definitely, wanted to read it. Trigger warnings: torture, antisemitism, physical abuse by parental figures, vomiting, animal death, self-harm, gore, body horror
This book opens with the most gorgeous title page. It seriously made my jaw drop. Finishing this book, I was struck with the same feeling. It might’ve taken those feelings to growing again, but grow again they did. This is a book that I find myself thinking about randomly and my brain continuing to come back to. It’s the kind of good that’s felt on a soft breeze or the quiet flutter of snow. Though, do not ignore the sharp bite of steel it also produces, because it is just as important.
I’m starting off with the writing because wow. It is breathtakingly gorgeous. It straddles the line of being gorgeous for the sake of being gorgeous and actually telling the story. Though, it does end up falling to the side of actually telling the story for me. I felt like there was enough plot and emotion and character to back up the writing. Seriously though, I was just in awe most of them with how words were strung together and the phrases that were present. Reid is TALENTED, and she lets the full breadth of it shine here.
It took me a bit to fall in love with a whole lot of this book, but I think that was part of the magic of it. I was unsure of Évike, of the aloof captain, of where the plot was going, even of the world. But, it’s a slow burn to understand what this book is trying to do. It’s a slow mesh of colors swirling together to make something starkly clear. The journey was worth it to me for this book. And even bigger, the journey was one of the parts that I loved most about.
This world is steeped in stories; there’s stories folded into stories. It has the touch of a vast and expansive world, but only focuses in on a small part of it. There’s splashes of horror and streaks of quiet and clangs of battles. It is an intricately woven world, one that Évike is trying to find its place in. It’s a world that’s incredibly dark, with monsters lurking in the forest and people hated because of the religion they practice. There’s political turmoil and plots to kill kings. And all of this done and written in the most incredible way. It felt like I was submerged in it, until I found myself thinking of it and its inner workings even when I wasn’t reading it.
I am surprised with how much I came to love pretty much every single character. I wasn’t sure what their stories were going to be, and they took a bit of time to untangle, but it was amazing seeing where the threads were leading to. Even the characters who were rough around the edges, who felt like the prick of a needle, I found myself liking them even just a bit. There’s even a bear character and bears are great. This also ties into how I felt about the relationships. There are tentative new friendships, quickly blossoming lust, but slowly blossoming romance (oh dang, forbidden romance and a road trip and they’re both grumpy and enemies-to-lovers), and finding new family. All around amazing.
There are also parts of this book that get VIOLENT. To the point where my jaw would drop at certain scenes because of how bloody and gorey it would get. But I’m not saying this in a bad way! It’s not done for shock factor, it’s done because it’s where the story is going. And this book does violet and horrifying well.
Also, this is definitely worth noting, instead of the Only One Bed trope, it is the Only One Tree trope.
This book contains so much. It contains a forests filled with monsters, plots to kill the king, political unrest and intrigue, writing that is breathtaking, and a whole lot of horror. I felt like this was two in books in one, but not in a bad way. It just packs so much into what it does have.
Overall, this is a book that digs under the skin with briars and brambles until I felt one with the forest. It’s haunting in a way, quiet, but also something that isn’t afraid to let itself be known. Really, if I have to sum it up, this book is incredible. It is everything that it is promised to be. I love it a whole bunch.