By: Hannah Whitten
Genre: Epic/Dark Fantasy (for adults)
Publisher: Orbit Books
“To escape the will of the Kings, they fled into the far reaches of the Wilderwood. They pledged that if the forest were to offer them shelter, they would give all they had for as long as their line continued…The forest accepted their bargain…
Upon the tree where they made their pledge, these words appeared…
The First Daughter is for the Throne
The Second Daughter is for the Wolf
And the Wolves are for the Wilderwood.”
Hannah Whitten, For the Wolf
For the Wolf is Hannah Whitten’s imaginative and beautifully told debut fantasy. It is a wonderful, sometimes dark, adult story that is a page turning fantasy with unforgettable characters, gorgeous world building, and a tale of love, loss, and finding oneself. I was swept up in this tale and engrossed in the world she created. Redarys (Red) is the younger of fraternal twins, her sister Neverah (Neve) being born first. This slight order makes Neve destined to become Queen of Valledyn, and Red to be the sacrifice to the Wolf of the Wilderwood, with the hope that her sacrifice will return the God-Kings they worship. Sound a tiny bit familiar? Red and the Wolf, the tale of Little Red Riding Hood? Well, I can assure that only the cape Red wears and the Wolf are the only similarities, but I still felt it was a little twist of the tale. Red is determined to fulfill her destiny, much to the objection of her sister and her friends who keep telling her to escape, and they will surely help her. Their unconditional love for her and the loss they can’t bear was heartbreaking. While Red is not happy, she accepts her fate, and in fact, feels the call of the Wilderwood in her blood. In a truly unique twist, when Red finally finds “The Wolf”, it is not what she expects. The Wolf is a man. A man named Eammon, tied inexorably to the Wilderwood. Once she arrives, she is determined to stay despite Eammon telling her to leave, it is a race against time for both to heal the Wilderwood and keep the Shadoworld at bay, a world that would release both the God-Kings and untold horrors on the world.
I loved Red. I loved that she is strong, determined, caring, and her unconditional love for her sister is what drives her to her destiny. Red feels the call of the wood, and its magic that flows through her, a magic she cannot control, and her only choice is to go to the Wilderwood. We get glimpses of when her magic came to her and something horrible happened that almost killed Neve. Red cannot forgive herself, and to keep her sister safe from the magic she possesses, she must go, even if means never seeing Neve again. It why she vehemently opposes any attempt to escape. She goes, wearing a white dress, black sash, and a beloved red cloak that Neve gave her.
When she meets Eammon, she learns of his connection to the Wilderwood and how, as the Wolf, he is the one that must keep it safe. Her strength and determination to stay and help is just as strong as his to let her go and keep her safe. Their interconnectedness to the woods, and therefore each other, makes for a wonderful battle of wills between them. Ms. Whitten created two characters whose chemistry leaps off the pages. Reds and Eammons banter are so enjoyable to read. It is this shared magic, and the Widlerwood that help them break down the walls they have been holding in for so long, coaxing it out of each other a little at a time. They help each other find themselves and who they are meant to be, and it was superbly crafted. Red and Eammon’s story is one of the most enchanting character relationships I have read in fantasy.
The majority of the story is centered around Red and Eammon. However, we do have parts that are dedicated to Neve, and Arick and Raffe, who are both friends of Neve and Red. They are looking for ways to penetrate the Wilderwood and bring Red back. It’s all consuming for Neve as Red is her sister and best friend. She simply cannot bear the loss. Just as Red would do anything to keep Neve safe, Neve will do anything to bring Red back. Because they are twins, they can “feel” each other and Neve knows that Red is alive. Her total focus on her sister makes her vulnerable and naïve, despite warnings from Raffe. It leads her down a path she knows is dangerous, but if it will bring her sister back, she will do it anyway. However, when does one know when to let go? Is anything justified to save the one you love? This unconditional love and wanting to keep the other safe, sets in motion events that neither could have predicted.
I loved the world of the Wilderwood that Ms. Whitten has created. It was at once beautiful and forbidding. It is a living entity, one that demands blood or magic to keep it alive. This is counter to the white trees that created a maze for Red to traverse that was so immersive. As a living being, one can bargain with the Wilderwood. It will grant someone what they want, but there is payment for it in return. That payment is being tied to the wood, protecting it along with Eammon, and giving blood when necessary. There are large, white, beautiful trees that serve as sentinels, guardians that prevent the Shadoworld from seeping through. The Wilderwood is in pain and dying, as the sentinels are being pulled away. Eammon is tied to the wood as it’s protector and cannot leave. It lives within him. The trees are rotting as the wood weakens, and Eammon’s blood can save the trees. That is until Red arrives and sees the toll it takes on him by giving too much blood. The intertwining of their magic is strong and helps, but the wood still suffers. Where the sentinels are going, they do not know.
Ms. Whitten’s magic is the ability to make the reader feel sadness for the wood, the dying of something so beautiful. The interconnectedness of Eammon and Red to nature was, I felt a metaphor for how we should be more connected. How nature is suffering, and what will it need for us to save it.
Eammon lives in a keep in the Wilderwood, with Fife and Lyra, who made a bargain with the wood. The keep is dark and part of the wood. It is covered in vines and moss, both inside and out. When Red arrives, it is an extension of the forest, with no sentinels. She marvels at the moss-covered stairs, fungi and flowers in bloom. The main room is unkempt with tattered tapestries lining the walls. She marvels at the sconces that have fire, but the wood does not burn. It was a magical keep, but certainly not Cinderalla’s castle. I think I prefer the nature keep, in all its unkempt natural glory.
The pacing and prose were excellent. I was hooked from the first page and did not put it down until I finished. It was a fast-paced and perfect story. There were the quiet, beautiful moments between Red and Eammon as they help each other overcome the troubles of their past, and learn to trust each other. At no time did the story drag, or there were places when nothing happens and the reader feels like it is “filler” to move the plot along. This was excellent. The majority is told in the third person perspective of Red. What she sees, we see. What she feels, we feel. While Red is a strong protagonist, she has pain from her past which also makes her vulnerable and relatable. It takes time for her to trust Eammon, which is quite realistic as all her life she heard stories of the “big bad wolf”. Chapters with Red are broken up by Interludes. Here we see what Neve and her friends are doing to get Red back. The changes we see in Neve contrast very differently to what we see in Red. Red is content and does not want to go back, but cannot communicate that to her sister. Neve is consumed by loss and grief and is easy prey for an evil, cunning priestess, Miri, who has her own agenda. Neve becomes a participant, believing that no matter what she is doing, Red is the most important thing. Ms. Whitten’s prose is amazing. It kept me reading non-stop from when I picked it up until the last page. I loved the construction, the chapters with Red, and the Interludes with Neve.
For the Wolf is a beautifully written debut fantasy by Hannah Whitten. I loved everything about this book. The characters were so well-crafted. The main protagonist, Red, the sacrifice to The Wolf, while strong and steadfast, is also relatable. She harbors fears from her past and is reluctant to use magic she believes will hurt the people she loves. The “Wolf”, Eammon, is a man charged with protecting the Wilderwood, to which he is tied. Red stays with Eammon, determined to help him save the dying wood, to which she is tied as well. Their relationship develops over time, and they not only learn trust, but to help each other break down barriers. Neve, Red’s sister, is consumed by her sister’s loss and will do anything to bring her back. While Red is content and has accepted her fate, Neve has not. Their trajectories become vastly different, even though their ties as twins and love for each other never wanes. In Neve’s grief and loss, she is an easy target for false stories of ways to bring her sister back. She will do what it takes, even though it leads her down a path she may regret. The pacing and prose are wonderful. It is told for the most part in the third person narrative of Red, with Interludes of what Neve is doing in Valledyn to bring her back. It is a story of unconditional love, loss, and finding one’s true self, all woven into a page turning adult fantasy. For the Wolf is a marvelous epic fantasy that will have readers wanting more of the story of Red, Neve and Eamon. I highly recommend it for all readers, not just lovers of fantasy.
Summary (from NetGalley)
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.
My sincere thanks to Orbit Books for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Find out more about Hannah Whitten on her website: https://hannahfwhitten.com/
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