by Hannah Whitten
Publication: June 1, 2021
Series: The Wilderwood #1
Eamonn is our tortured hero, whose tenure as Wolf has made him more than just the keeper of the Wilderwood. As the woods begin to weaken, his desire to protect others from similar paths drives him to repair the woods by himself. Red is the sacrificial second daughter destined for the Wolf. Her entire life has been shaped by this single fate. When she enters the Wilderwood she eventually learns that some stories alter the truth while some stories are passed from one generation to the next because they aren’t just stories at all. Sometimes the things you’re scared of are less terrifying than what those things are keeping out.
For the Wolf is a reimagining of multiple fairy tales, including Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast, but to solely call it that minimizes how wholly novel the book feels. It’s a dark adult fantasy rife with love, obligations, and sacrifice. Whitten’s attention to detail, from the plot to the landscape, transported me to the Wilderwood and Valleyda. Although the descriptions can seem lengthy, maybe even excessive at times, they contributed to an atmospheric read that allowed me to immerse myself in the story and the relationships. Furthermore, the complexity of the magic and the world we get a glimpse of is what contributes to this being such a good read. There’s a lot to the book but I am focusing on the relationships.
The relationships are one of the highlights of the novel with the most compelling one being Red and her older sister Neve. While they are destined to traverse different paths, their devotion to each other is moving. Can you imagine giving up one of the people you love the most in the world to a sinister fate? Neve’s character arc in the book is based on this need to get Red back. It serves as justification for Neve to embark on a mission to save Red even if she doesn’t fully understand what she’s getting herself into. We get snapshots of how Neve is faring through Valleyda Interludes. These chapters also contain characters who are as painstakingly secretive as the Wolf, and it was frustrating.
The romance between Eammon and Red is a slow burn. They’re bound to each other because of their circumstances, and feelings gradually grow from there, including frustration, desire, and eventually love. As much as I enjoyed the their relationship, it was also frustrating. I tried to understand Eammon’s behavior but I was increasingly irritated with him and his unwillingness to provide Red with answers. Although he believed he was helping her, he instead took away her agency, or at least what she had left of it. She deserved to not only make decisions for herself but to make these decisions with the most information possible. I get why he did it but I hated that he deliberately made it so difficult for her. (Okay… I go back and forth about this relationship because I just keep wondering if there’d be anything there had it not been for their connection to the Wilderwood. Like, how much is it the Wilderwood and how much of it is them? Am I reading too much into this? Ack…)
Then there is the Wilderwood with its many complicated relationships. It’s at once beautiful and terrifying. It would be fairly easy to describe the sentient woods as evil, and in the beginning, it feels that way. It is demanding and asks a great deal of those connected to it. It serves as both friend and foe, wholly immersed in its own survival. The Wilderwood takes more than many are willing to give, but it’s important to understand that in the larger context, it only asks as much as is required to maintain the bargains made.
Throughout the novel, I felt a certain amount of anxiousness, and I largely attribute it to my anticipation of the novel and the unknown. I had guesses, but I didn’t always figure out what was going to happen next. Additionally, I desperately wanted parts of the book to move along faster so I could get to the end. And the end is worth it. I realize that I continually remark about how frustrated I was with the book but as much as it frustrated me, I enjoyed it a lot. While it may be the allure of an adult version of known fairy tales (and the lovely cover) that compels individuals to first reach for the book, Whitten’s novel stands well on its own as an original tale. For the Wolf is only the beginning, and I cannot wait for the next book slated for Summer 2022.