For The Wolf
by Hannah WhittenFor The Wolf uses the imagery of Red Riding Hood, but this tale of an enchanted forest is only loosely connected to the traditional fairy tale. In the kingdom of Valleyda there are two royal daughters. Neve is destined to take the throne, but Redarys, known as Red, is supposed to enter the Wilderwood where she will be a sacrifice to appease the Wolf there as part of an old magical bargain that is meant to keep their country safe. And Red, in spite of plans from her sister, her friend Raffe, and her boyfriend the Duke of Floriane, is determined to martyr herself and go through with the planned sacrifice.
So Red goes to the wood, resigned to what she expects to be a horrible but brief fate. Within the Wilderwood the trees seem to be thirsty for her blood, with vines twisting like snakes to scratch her skin and suck her dry. That's the fate that appears to have happened to previous second daughters. In the woods she meets Eammon, the Wolf, who keeps to himself but is nothing like the feral monster Red had expected. There's great danger within the wood, which is cut off from Valleyda to the south, as the Shadowlands encroach. What's more, there are legends of five kings buried in the Shadowlands, but what's really going on with them seems as magical and suspect as every other legend.
The story is also told from Neve's point of view, as the princess left behind. Neve is determined to get her sister back, but she also has to handle her mother, Queen Isla, who isn't known for showing her emotions. Neve also has to deal with the politics of court factions. One group of priestesses are getting close to her, but they are regarded as a heretical sect and their influence would change the way magic and religion is practised in the kingdom. They want the Kings returned, but would that be a good thing?
Red feels magic rising inside her, and it's a violent and strange thing. There is a sense of impending doom that grows throughout the story. Within the Wilderwood Red meets Lyra and Fife, who also work to hold back the Shadowlands and are trapped within the cursed woods, much like Red and Eammon are. Red is scared to use her magic, always holding back, further building the tension in the story.
This is a romantic tale, of the slow and sweet variety, as the Wolf is easily embarrassed and prone to blushing, which seems odd for someone who is meant to be as old as he is. It's somewhat dreamy. The Wolf is reserved, and doesn't do anything without consent, which makes him an appealing character. Although his first impression is of someone who is grumpy and stand-offish, the reasons for this are teased out and we see him in a different light by the end.
Red is headstrong, but again she has good reasons which soften the edges of her character. Neve is a less sympathetic sister because she comes across as too naive and trusting to begin with. So there's a heap of dramatic irony as the reader sees her making decisions without the full knowledge of what is going on behind the scenes. Raffe is an interesting side-character as the friend that loves Neve but is unlikely to ever be able to be with her. And then there's Arick, the Duke of Floriane, who cuts a pretty tragic figure because he loves Red intensely and she doesn't seem to be able to reciprocate and in any case is destined to leave him. There are quite a few priestesses, all with their own rivalries between factions, and it's not clear which if any of them can be trusted. So in terms of the cast of characters, the story sets up a scenario that promises to play out with maximum drama.
The setting isn't too far from many much other fairytale fantasy: a medieval-style kingdom, wild magic in the woods, trees that come alive, curses and bargains, immortals, and devoted priestesses. It sits at that boundary between unsettlingly strange and comfortably familiar that hits the sweet spot for this genre. I enjoyed the intricate plotting as the scheming at court interweaves with a centuries-old magical mystery and various romantic intrigues. The story doesn't end on a cliffhanger, but it is nevertheless unresolved to the extent that there are parts that are left for the next book to wrap up. Definitely a story I look forward to continuing.
14th September 2022
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: own copy